An Afternoon at the Wave Rising Series in DUMBO

Jon Guyman in Johannes Weiland's work; photo by Sebastian Lemm

This Sunday past, as last Saturday’s freak snowstorm gave way to a lovely if chill close of weekend, I found myself wandering down Jay St. in DUMBO soaking up what precious few rays of afternoon sun I could before slipping into the dark of the John Ryan Theater, home of Young Soon Kim/White Wave Dance Company, for the third of a six-part series of showcases of emerging choreographic talent called Wave Rising.

To be totally blunt, there is a small part of me that hates these sorts of festivals. They’re always based on the premise that emerging artists lack opportunities to produce work. But of course so do mid-career artists, and is there even anything beyond mid-career anymore? Part of me says that what’s really needed is for some of the effort that goes into these showcase festivals to be redirected at giving one or two of these people a real, evening-length shot, and part of me just despairs that the entire field is under-served, a situation likely to get worse rather than better in the foreseeable future. And then there’s the grump in me, on top of all of that, who just wants a damn Sunday to himself.

But the truth is that in the long run, it’s usually something I see at one of these showcase festivals that sticks with me, because for all the uninspired work you see, you do get to catch both the diamonds in the rough as well as artists who do deserve more attention, which is what I–and everyone here at Culturebot–are all about.

And it was definitely a good afternoon. The John Ryan, a cavernous but intimate converted warehouse space, was warm and pleasant and a nice place to catch a show, and surprisingly packed for four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. The show was decidedly sold-out, and despite arriving nearly 15 minutes before curtain, I could only score a decidedly terrible seat (which I’ll charitably call a “partially obstructed view”).

As for the four artists on tap as part of Program C (which was running in tandem with Program D; this week it’s E and F), it was a mixed bag, which was to be expected, though none were completely disappointing.

Up first was an excerpt of Johannes Wieland‘s newyou, a dance theater work that, according to his notes, “explores my fascination of deceit towards achieving a positive state we call happiness.” Mostly what I saw was an enigmatic and imaginative performance that was much better as theater than dance. Three women and one man took turns doing speaking lines. As it opens, they alternate repeating (into a microphone), “It’s my birthday, and I’m happy,” eventually and suggestively dropping that last word. From there, there are party flirtations, a hook-up, drunken conversation, and some dancing. My only real complaint is that choreographically, aside from a duet toward the end of the piece, the dance was fairly by-the-book movement, the dance vocabulary not half as interesting or bursting with ideas as the other performance elements.

Yin Yue. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

Which isn’t to say the dancers weren’t good: Eva Mohn, Kristin Osler, and Jon Guymon all did fantastic work. (I exclude Beth Griffith from the list not because I had a complaint, merely because she doesn’t “dance” within the piece.) There was enough falling and floor work I was aching for their knees by the time it was done, and all of them demonstrated a great deal of charisma. It was certainly a fascinating enough piece that I’d see the full work.

Allison Jones Dance’s Hypomaniac! was also somewhat choreographically weak, if well performed. Each sequence set to music was a strong enough work, but I only vaguely sensed how they fit together.

Nicole Smith presented a pair of works, and overall these were the most intriguing of the evening. murmured, an emotional duet, didn’t exactly break any boundaries, but it was affecting and I was fascinated at how Smith had worked with two male dancers, Alex Biegelson and Tyner Dumortier, to create a thoughtful work about men interrelating. Not to be sexist about it, but when it comes to intimate moments (and this was a very intimate piece) a woman choreographing men is as likely to fall flat as a man choreographing for women. Certainly the fact the work was a collaboration among all three played a role, but I can’t help but give Smith kudos for helping to produce something like this–it was thoughtful and subtle and compelling.

The second of Smith’s contributions was a solo performed hrself, called Pretty Polly. Smith is a tall and powerful dancer, and while again it wasn’t boundary breaking, it was a strong and confident study.

Last came Yin Yue Dance Company. Yue, who also performed in Allison Jones’s piece, is one of those dancers whose body carries subtlety well, and her choreography speaks to that. Physically, her four dancers pushed their bodies toward the limits: an extension of the arm, for instance, isn’t just a rote gesture: it pulls at the joints, tugs the shoulder forward, and extends through the fingers, until it blossoms into a complex and subtle language of its own, each articulation carrying a rich layer of meaning.

Precision, in other words, was a core component of the moment in Something hasn’t been said about me. The piece was raw and emotional, and featuring a number of beautiful moments, a dancer cradling another’s head, or one taking turns kissing another: first her shoulder, then her neck, her ankle, her hip, her wrist, in a repeating pattern. For the kisser it was an act of love; for the kissee, it was something different and more inscrutable, the way in which she offered up her body parts somewhere between a trypanophobe facing a needle and a dominatrix making a submissive lick a foot. (A broad range, I know, but again, my view really wasn’t very good.)

Whatever the case, despite my trepidation going in, it was a perfectly interesting afternoon of dance, with some great performances and promising-to-strong choreography. The Wave Rising Festival finished up this week with Programs E and F in rotation starting tonight, giving you the chance to catch up to eight new and emerging artists. Check it out online here.

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