Photo by Tom Caravaglia, from Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company’s website
Last night I headed to Dance Theater Workshop in Chelsea to see Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company’s Legacy Project and excerpts from ECHOES, a work in progress that weaves together Yiddish songs, text, and dance. The project celebrated Ms. Dorfman’s Eastern European-Jewish roots and closely examined themes such as community, survival, and grief. I was expecting to see a very abstract work that subtly conveyed a message about Ms. Dorfman’s heritage, but the performance had a whole storyline presented through dance, songs, images on a projection, and text. At the heart of the piece was Bente Kahan, a Norwegian-born Jewish actress and singer whose booming voice and powerful stage presence added to the dramatic quality of the evening.
In a series of duets, ensemble work, and solos, the eleven dancers fully immersed themselves in the movement and clearly portrayed a variety of emotions. Although the solos nicely conveyed isolation or pain, it seems that Ms. Dorfman excels at creating intricate and complex choreography for groups. Parts of the performance were far too literal and obvious, such as when one woman amongst a group collapses to the floor, with images of concentration camps projected on the scrim, and the others gently place her into a metal bucket and carry her away. Such scenes rely more on gesture and acting than rhythmic movement, and underestimate the audience’s imagination. Yet other sections – ones that were more abstract – beautifully captured the richness of Ms. Dorfman’s heritage. Pain and the separation of a community could be detected in the dancers’ deep contractions or when they pressed their hands over their stomachs and hung their heads low. The lighting design by Sean J. Perry often cast shadows on the backdrop, suggesting that many more people than the five or six bodies on stage were affected by the Holocaust.
The Legacy Project presented the same themes that I’ve seen in many other performances – musicals, plays, one-woman shows, dances, etc – that examine heritage, cultural roots, and particularly the Holocaust. Although my initial reaction to the piece was “been there, done that”, I realize that it’s unnecessary to demand that it bring something new to the table because a work about heritage inevitably addresses universal themes – survival, hope, and renewal, among others – to which anyone can relate. The piece clearly comes from a personal place for Ms. Dorfman, but conveys a story that is not only historically significant but also emotionally challenging and moving.