It’s a tough time to be a young, budding choreographer. Obstacles are plentiful, such as finding affordable rehearsal space and a venue willing to present one’s work, along with coordinating rehearsal schedules for part-time dancers who will (hopefully) get paid. Many choreographers might throw in the towel, choosing instead to join an established company and hope for opportunities to choreograph there. But Ilana Webber, a 2007 graduate of Barnard College and a sponsored artist of The Field, has persevered. She created ten works for student performances at Barnard and Columbia between 2004 and 2007, and her newly formed company, Ilana Webber Dance, made its debut this weekend in The Furthermost Shake at the Gene Frankel Theatre. Of the four dances on the program, some were much more compelling than others, but the performance suggests that Webber is an artist with great potential.
Webber’s work is heavily influenced by her musical choices, which are an interesting mix of contemporary sounds and spoken word. Sometimes lyrics can undermine choreography by conveying emotion more so than the movement. This is the case in Belle Drops, a piece for six women in white dresses, set to an aching Joanna Newsom song. Myriad shifts in formations and effective use of the space prove that Webber knows a thing or too about composition, but the piece feels immature. The dancers’ stoic expressions are no match for Newsom’s lyrics, but one can sense that the dancers are on the verge of revealing something beneath the surface.
The Birds Are Awake features three women (including Webber, who appears in all of the pieces) shaking and twitching on the floor to Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!” As the text morphs into Kid Cuti’s “Day ‘n’ Nite”, the dancers rise to standing and show more rhythmic, aggressive movement as they survey their surroundings and gorgeously tackle the space. The phrase “wonder and think, think and wonder” lingers throughout the work, suggesting a theme of intellectual consciousness and independence.
Using an excerpt from This American Life as a starting point, Be Here Now explores the concept of mapping. Ira Glass says that mapping is about “focusing obsessively on one item”, which the dancers convey through repeated gestures. Facing different directions, they rapidly type on a keyboard or whisper in another’s ear. Intricate movement patterns hint at the mapping that goes into creating a dance, as well. This complex work certainly merits another viewing.
The program ends with a bit of fluff called MSS LKS. Four dancers shimmy to the sounds of MSTRKRFT while a video by Avery McCarthy shows isolated parts of a dancer’s body swinging to the music. Later, close-ups of the four dancers – wearing fake eyelashes and bright lipstick – appear on the screen. It seems narcissistic, but perhaps in a mocking way? It’s unclear. The audience claps along, but the piece is a weak follow-up to Be Here Now.
Each work on the program is under fifteen minutes. Webber should challenge herself by making a longer piece that digs deeper and more thoroughly presents emotional substance. She has it in her. It’s just a matter of letting it out.