Gallim Dance & Sidra Bell at DTW

Gallim Dance: Jonathan Royse Windham, Arika Yamada, Troy Ogilvie, Caroline Fermin, Dan Walczak, Francesa Romo. Photo Yi-Chun Wu

Last night, I slogged the few blocks from my office to Dance Theater Workshop for the 7:30 double-bill of Andrea Miller’s Gallim Dance and Sidra Bell Dance (through Jan. 22; tickets $20).

This was my second taste of Andrea Miller’s choreography, and the first time I left feeling pretty ambivalent about it. With her second piece under my belt, I feel a bit more confident in admitting that although there are some things she’s clearly gifted at, choreographically her work just doesn’t quite come together in a very meaningful way.

The weaknesses are, unfortunately, on display from the very beginning of For Glenn Gould, which opens with her company in a balletic mode that they just can’t quite pull off. There were moments where the synchronization was simply sloppy looking–sloppy for professionals, yes, but sloppy nonetheless. And even then, Miller didn’t seem to have much interest in the balletic mode other than for its purely formal aesthetics, a lengthy exercise in asking us to look at graceful composition paired with the first of two recordings of Gould’s Goldberg Variations that bookend the piece–as they did the pianist’s career.

What follows quickly moves into the more familiar mode I saw Wonderland, the first piece of Miller’s I caught at the Joyce last summer. There’s some human contortionism involving a set of chairs and some odd bits where the dancers balance themselves on the bric-a-brac brought in to litter the stage (road cones, empty water cooler bottles, stacks of books), but what the piece really boils down to, despite the occasional brief pairing, is a series of intense solos that prove–again–that Miller has a real capacity for crafting extremely physical and athletic movement. Some of them were quite good, particularly those by Arika Yamada and Troy Ogilvie.

Others were less so, particularly the solo used as a filler following the initial sequence, to allow the rest of the company to drag the set pieces onstage. To an a-rhythmic song, one of the dancers performs a sort of psychic break down expressed through increasingly erratic movement phrases each of which end with the dancer casting herself across the floor. I’ve seen this done so many times that’s quickly racing to the top of my list of performance cliches I never want to see again (until, of course, someone really surprises me by making them work, which I love to see happen on the rare occasion it does), right up there with a soloist dragging him- or herself slowly across the stage to express desperation or despair, something few have added to since Balanchine choreographed it in 1929.

Sidra Bell Dance NY: Alexandra Johnson, Zach McNally. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu

As for Sidra Bell’s POOL, it’s basically a futuristic-by-way-of-the-Eighties German fetish cabaret, complete with thumping Euro-disco score, black spandex-and-pleather costumes, spotlights for against-the-wall routines, and face make-up that unfortunately recalls about every poster for Black Swan. And the truth is, I kind of liked it at first. It brought a grin to my face, because it is cheesy, but Bell really does own the concept.

The problem is, I never really grasped what the concept was meant to convey, aside from the program description of “memory, dreams, and illusions as well as the line between order and disorder.” The movement vocabulary feels mainly sculptural, and although Bell plays with some interesting pairings and aims for a dynamic use of the space, it never really feels like it comes together in a meaningful fashion (basically that was the order of the night), and at 40 minutes or so, it felt a fair bit longer.

5 thoughts on “Gallim Dance & Sidra Bell at DTW”

  1. anonymous says:

    I recommend you watch on youtube Andrea Miller's Blush, also I Can See Myself in Your Pupil, and Snow…I think these three works will change your mind about her and her choreographic skill. I, too, saw Wonderland at the Joyce and For Glenn Gould just this evening…they are both a slight departure for her and the company…I feel she is exploring a bit….testing the waters…trying things out…and I applaud her for that.
    I unfortunately did not enjoy Sidra's work. The dancers were phenomenal, but the entire package just didn't work for me. Had seen a piece of hers at Reverb three years ago and loved it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Barker makes a few good points about the Gallim piece. I saw it, and have seen the company provide better execution and topical areas in the past. I have seen all of their work. And, as above, I do highly reccommend the dances on youtube that Barker has not seen, as they provide better representations of the choreographer's range, skill and insight in this field. For an entrpenuer of her age, Miller is quite incredible at what she does. The dancers are recognized by most as some of the best in their field (by other dancers, not by people with degrees in comparative analysis). What's sad in the critique – like so many reviews and the tendency of their author- is that Barker's background in comparative whatever falsely justifies an expert status that lays the groundwork for a crummy review. I get it, if the reviewers liked everything, they's be out of business. Ultimately, Barker's review is about him. The 25 minutes in which Gallim occupied the stage is just a vehicle for the reviewer to justify his existence as someone who compares and criticizes artists who have the courage to share their work with the public. Snoooooze.

    1. MvB says:

      Speaking of "never want to see again," how about "artists having the courage to share their work" as a defensive response to criticism? Let's just stipulate that it takes bravery to be both excellent and really horrible in public, so it's neither here nor there.

    2. Jeremy M. Barker says:

      Yeah, I'm not sure how I can have a couple valid points, and be pointed to earlier work which was apparently better executed and/or more interesting, yet I'm still somehow completely unqualified to offer any judgment. It sounds like I'm generally right. The review isn't about me, though, except insofar as I went to see a show and offered my thoughts about it. I certainly respect artists for taking risks and pushing themselves in new ways, but in the end, no artist gets to choose his or her audience–unless that audience is made up exclusively of friends and admirers who somehow manage to follow the artist around the country and the world to see "all of their work." No offense to anyone, but two times should be enough to have a grasp of how an artist is working now, and the work is just not up to snuff. That's hardly my fault.

  3. Lawrence2011 says:

    I'm sorry to have to say that whatever you were watching in that third grade piece of choreography from the gallim company was to me about the level of a cool ny dance piece (I actually sat through that dance travesty a few times)….the gallim piece was a horrible amateurish mess hiding under the guise of dance…i don't know where this amateur choreographer gets her reputation from but as a lover of dance for many years, i was disgusted by the total lack of vision in this piece of trash, no watchable dance except for a few moments when she allowed her victims to actually show that they can dance…the piece opened with some promising choreography and then just stopped…the rest of this mess could have been my neighbor's child emptying out my closets of all the junk I've accumulated over the years, spreading it out in my hallway and then playing with it like a moron…if playing with odd pieces of trash…running around the stage and having female dancers look like they were giving head to the male dancers and dropping chairs on the floor is the ultimate state of what all of you believe the dance world has risen to then we have reached the end of any hope in developing new and meaningful choreography….i think the nyc dance audience has lost its collective minds supporting "non-dance" crap like this…no wonder the dance audience has dwindled to the minute state it's in…at least the second piece from choreographer bell showed great promise in it's interesting use of movement and dance language that brought out the best in her amazing dancers especially the interesting interplay of the two male leads…and…. i only heard about 2-3 minutes of what you called thumping Euro-disco score so you are exaggerating what actually was in the music track at least from what i heard…the music had many different levels as did the choreography…..this was my first experience seeing her company and i was bowled over….the comments i heard from people next to me were "masterpiece", "incredible" … it felt like the audience was holding its collective breath in anticipation during the whole piece waiting to see where bell was going to take them next…the woman next to me actually exhaled at the end as if she was lifted up from her chair in wonder…obviously bell is a force to be reckoned with as opposed to the pseudo ohad gaga mess of the first piece…

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