Stretch it! Flaunt It! LaMaMa takes Tisch around the corner for fun and profundity

(l to r) Penny Dannenberg (seated), Jamie Graham, Rebecca Woll, Moses Kaplan, Alex Schell, Maggie Ronan, Jessica Thomas, Betty Williams (obscured) Photo by Eric Bandiero

Stretch.  And be smart about it.

Translate into Latin  (Tendo, Quod operor is purpureus?), and that might become a motto for NYU Tisch School of the Arts Dance Program.

Over the past several months I have encountered Department Chair Cherylyn Lavagnino, and faculty member Jaclynn Villamil with graduate students in tow both at DIA Beacon for the dress rehearsal of the Trisha Brown Dance Company‘s performances there in February, and at Danspace St. Mark’s.  Granted, the latter happens to be just up Second Avenue from the Department’s home at 6th St.  But wouldn’t that be a smart stretch?

Last Friday, those two along with faculty project facilitator Jim Sutton could be found in the first and second rows of La Mama Annex around the corner on E. 4th St.  And some of the graduate students, along with a number of newly minted BFA’s  and MFA’s could be found on the stage. There, in the evening’s most intriguing and compelling spectacle four of them found themselves fully integrated into Naomi Goldberg Haas’ “Uprooting,” a piece that incorporates three generations of performers to suggest passages both physical and metaphysical.

at rear: (l to r) Moses Kaplan, Jamie Graham, Maggie Ronan, Jackie Ferrara. front: Penny Dannenberg, Ani Javian Photo by Eric Bandiero

Goldberg Haas has been directing her Dances For A Variable Population since 2005, with professional company members ranging in age from 25 to 81.  The seamless addition of NYU dancers Moses Kaplan, Maggie Ronan, Alex Schell and Jessica Thomas highlights one of the choreography’s strengths.  Set to several propulsive folk-inspired recordings by the Polish combo Warsaw Village Band, “Uprooting” manages to find and challenge each of its 13 performers at or near the limit of her/his technical and expressive potential, and to transcend this challenge by suggesting the existential humanity of yearning, striving, transformation, and reflection from youth to age and memory back to immediate experience.

(l to r) M. Lindsay Smith, Jackie Ferrara Photo by Eric Bandiero

The performances of senior members Penny Dannenberg, Jackie Ferrara, Judith Chazen Walsh and Betty Williams, while remarkable in their own right, create a frame of dimension and depth for those of their youthful collaborators.  Their regard of the youngsters manages to encompass a mixture of dispassionate assessment with intimations of mentoring, longing, and sassy competitiveness and even one-upmanship that leavens the poignancy of both the music and the dancing with pith and wit.  In one exquisitely simple and memorable moment Dannenberg and Geraldine Bartlett slowly sit down back to back to share one of the folding chairs that has been brought on to the stage.  Their mirror images present in such a way as to leave open the question, expertly poised, of who might be a reflection of whom.

Add to this interplay the lusty way in which Goldberg Haas’ young professionals Jamie Graham, Ani Javian, M. Lindsay Smith and Rebecca Woll bite into the music and movement as if to both throw down a challenge and lead the way among their younger and older counterparts, and you have a work that begins to transform the creative potential energy of Dances For A Variable Population into a power to move and inspire its audience as much as its own members.

In this, rehearsal director Smith, of the high-arched and articulate feet and whip-smart torso, and the equally fiery Graham set the tone as firsts among equals.  With any luck, this cross-generational ensemble, including its new-found Tisch quartet, will manage to hold together long enough to re-present an outdoor version of this work at the end of September in cooperation with Hudson Guild Fulton Senior Center along the High Line Park in Chelsea.

(l to r): Ani Javian, M. Lindsay Smith, Jamie Graham, Rebecca Woll. Photo by Eric Bandiero

One can only wish as much for Selina Chau’s “The New York Exchange.” This witty, cheeky, extremely well crafted send up of everything from dance style pretensions to kung fu movies features fine performances by Monica Barbaro as a wayward ballet princess, Austin J. Diaz and Gierre J. Godley, as various NY dance, street and martial arts types, and Mandarin Wu as the archetypal femme fatale with the fan.

Mandarin Wu (with fan) Gierre J. Godley, and Monica Barbaro photo by Tony Dougherty

Chau displays a sharp eye and a supple mind for theatrical type and form, fable, kitsch, and the way pop culture co-opts all of the above. Set to an ingenious score by Kyle Olson that mashes up his own “New York Exchange” with passages from Adolphe Adams’ score for Giselle and Romani and Bellini’s “Costa Diva” from Norma, interrupted by Chinese text passages written by Chau and comically delivered by co-writer Wu, the work sets up and then undermines expectations in a way that satisfyingly compliments that of Goldberg Haas. Like the latter dance maker, Chau has keen sense of theatrical and, especially in her case, comic timing and the delicacy of gesture that allows us the comfort of recognition just as she twists to tickle and subvert our prejudice.

Such rare gifts more than justify Tisch’s repeated presence in the annual LaMama Moves Festival.  When you’ve got it, why not go the extra mile — or two blocks – beyond your building and perhaps your comfort zone to flaunt it?

More of DJ McDonald’s commentary can be found at City of Glass.

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