Francesca Dominguez’s “Galvanizing Steel” is Capable

Balancing disparate ideas felt central to Francesca Dominguez’s Galvanizing Steel, a Hunter College MFA/dance thesis work, which premiered at Gibney’s Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center. Dominguez, who specializes in counter technique, a movement system which, disappointingly, does not show up much in the work, is constantly finding—and landing in—the space between: Costumes, by Taya Louisa, don’t dare be too loud. The silky silhouettes, ranging from goldish-tan hues to soft blues, are a cross between activewear and pajamas. The sound, by Macio Payomo, is a vibrating through line that cradles more than it imposes. The movement feels balanced, too, if expected, coasting on tell-tale choreographic devices of the contemporary canon and, at times, feeling safer than exploratory. Perhaps that was the intention.

Pieced together by interludes of movement, Galvanizing Steel includes a trio (Jose Ozuna, Sophia Stefanoupolos and Oren Yari), duet (Aieyla Santaella and Lynda Senisi) and solo (performed by Dominguez). In each, repetition, the kind that accelerates in speed, shows up plentifully. Such a device tasks the dancers with testing their physical thresholds, pushing them beyond their individual and collective kinespheres. In the trio, for example, the dancers fall in ripples, portraying the aftermath with dramatic expression, weight pounding into the floor, eyes shut. The duet opened with a running scene: at first, the two dancers standing side by side pace in place, then reach higher speeds as Santaella extends two arms towards the audience—a plea for connection. In her solo, Dominguez thrusts her whole body into a wave goodbye, her knees buckling inward and face and blonde hair flying through the air. The velocity increases, then settles—and so does she. In all three pieces, the dancers run, until they abruptly stop at edges, over and over. The intensity of these moments, though initially thrilling, becomes less so, because the experience becomes less novel. But something else was happening, too.

Collaborative creation felt alive in that space. While, in the end, the work was satisfying, what turned me on most was the sense of community shared amongst the performing artists. This cast channeled wavelengths that only they could see, feel, hear—and which they discovered together. This sort of essence is of the choreographer’s doing; of the environment Dominguez established for her process.

Transformation happens in spaces like this one—and, as a result, the dancers in this work showed personal growth. Ozuna was no longer the brute I witnessed at the Hunter College Dance Department auditions at the beginning of last semester (I am an adjunct lecturer at the school). In Galvanizing Steel, he was aware and supple. Santaella, whose emotional commitment animated the industrial space, used her hip hop training to elevate the work, imbuing the strength and control required for pops onto forceful gestures. Who, but Dominguez, could be responsible for shaping this type of environment—and for showing others how to contribute to it? How lovely to see such care taken, and to witness not only the work, but the process, mirror the central ideas of the pieces. A few were listed in the promotional materials: “that which supports”; “reaching out from underneath”; and “just look the other way.”

The latter presented as Ozuna and Yael, the two male-presenting dancers in the show, held hands. At a slow pace, they walked the perimeter of the stage, their gazes breaking the fourth wall in a way that felt deliberate. The audience had a choice: to look away or to stare directly at them. They remained connected despite (or, perhaps, because) of our reactions.

In fact, each of the three pieces recalled a sense of togetherness. The whole of the work integrated images of interconnected human life: one dancer’s hands on the foreheads of the other two, leading the paths of their movement; a dancer leaning on another who was kneeling on the floor, using them as an anchor, stability; the soloist connecting with the floor as the other dancers stared into her. The message? We rely on each other, on all the people in our communities to move forward, to get through.

The work felt rooted in traditions of contact improvisation. While much of it was set, the interactions felt new, certainly fueled by the performers’ loyalty to what and how they were directed to express. Sharing weight and centering touch, the dancers demonstrated an awareness of how each of their bodies—and the energies they carried—flowed into, pushed up against and aligned with others. The evolution of this interaction throughout the three pieces felt vital to the work and reminded me of how delicate and equally powerful touch can be.

Moments were highlighted by Burke Brown’s lighting design. I was especially moved by the near-painfully slow fade-out that closed the show. It felt like a dream, watching Dominguez waving goodbye, sinking into the darkness.

I left the show feeling inspired by the commitment. Yet, while my eyes and soul ate up the beauty of the evening, I find that I remember art that challenges—the medium, the techniques, the devices; the systems, the proprieties, the norms; the form. Dominguez is clearly capable—and I will keep an eye out for future works of hers that hit such a target.

Thomas Ford is a NYC-based dance artist and writer. He is the founding director of companyONE, a pre-professional training program, and year-round faculty at the Joffrey Ballet School (NY). His choreographic work has appeared at venues like the Joyce Theater and the Ailey Citigroup Theater, and most recently been presented at Next@Graham, the Peridance APEX Showcase, the Capezio A.C.E. Awards and the STEPS Performance Lab. His writing has appeared in ELLE, Dance Magazine, Dance Spirit, and The Brooklyn Rail. Thomas has a BA in communications from Marymount Manhattan College and is currently pursuing an MFA in dance at Hunter College, where he serves as an adjunct lecturer in dance and dance studies. The National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (NFAA/YoungArts) recognized him as a Presidential Scholar.

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