Gallim Dance in Blush, photo by Christopher Duggan
On Thursday evening at The AWARD Show – Artists with Audiences Responding to Dance – the sold-out Joyce Soho was not told to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Rather, the audience was charged with the task and responsibility of carefully evaluating each of the four works on the program and voting for their favorite. The choreographer whose work received the most votes would continue on to perform with the other finalists. On the final night (tomorrow), a panel of experts in dance and other cultural arts fields, along with the audience, will choose the winner. The recipient will receive a $10,000 cash prize to be used toward the development of new work. It’s a fairly straightforward format, but one that aims to engage choreographers and viewers in an open dialogue. In addition to voting on Thursday, the audience had the opportunity to fill out anonymous comment cards, which are delivered to the choreographers, and engage in a post-show discussion with them. Audience members not only asked questions about the work, but also willingly shared constructive feedback – ranging from what images or emotions the piece brought up to their opinion on costume choices.
Determining who should proceed to the finals was no easy task. All four choreographers – Vanessa Justice, Sidra Bell, Shannon Gillen/Elisabeth Motley, and Andrea Miller – presented intriguing, sophisticated works worthy of high marks using the Joyce’s suggested POEM criteria: Potential, Originality, Execution, and Merit. Perhaps an extra “E” could be added for emotion. The emotional substance of a work, and the way it resonates with the audience, is undoubtedly a factor that can place a dance in a league of its own. In fact, it often makes a piece more vivid and memorable, making certain works on the program stand out more than others.
Vanessa Justice Dance performed FLATLAND, an eerie, dream-like piece for three women that played with space, presence and absence, and collective and individual forces. Dark, ominous projections on the scrim often showed the dancers frozen in a position that the audience saw the live dancers perform moments before. In spite of the work’s title, the movement itself was wonderfully multi-dimensional, and sound from the 1977 film “Eraserhead” underscored the chilling, psychological texture of the work. One dancer used her chin to push the limbs of the other two into a forced embrace, creating a curious mix of violence and tenderness.
Vanessa Justice’s FLATLAND, photo by Ian Douglas
Shannon Gillen and Elisabeth Motley of DOORKNOB COMPANY also used film in their work, The Waiting Room. A television on stage showed segments from Fellini’s La Strata that served as background noise and a reflection of the segmented scenes occurring in a waiting room. Gillen and Motley stomped around in pink stilettos, sat impatiently in folding chairs, flailed about with National Geographic magazines covering their faces, and interspersed duets with moments of solitude. Despite the unique personalities that were subtly conveyed, the women were both dressed in maroon sweaters and skirts with pink stilettos. In the waiting room they were the same person, in the same frustrating situation: attempting to convey kindness and mask brutality.
In Anthology, Sidra Bell Dance New York showed disembodiment and embodiment through two extracts. In your distance kept, five dancers under spotlights created a circus-like atmosphere with their physically demanding movement and cold stares, set to the electronic sounds of Ezekiel Honig and Mokira. Troy Ogilvie and Gilbert Small explored each other’s bodies in your hands, portraying a scenario that involved gender dynamics and invasion of personal space. They reacted to the slightest of each other’s movements or advances, interchangeably pushing the other away or giving in to desire. Ogilvie seemed more powerful when wearing her red heels, while her cream-colored ruffled top suggested her character’s subtle fragility. Small was gorgeously bold and beautiful in a black, ruffled tutu.
Gallim Dance’s excerpt from Blush, choreographed by Andrea Miller, left the audience as elated and exhausted as the dancers. Wearing trunks and colorful tank tops, six dancers scattered about the space to the loud, pulsating sounds of Kap Bambino. Their limbs shook and torsos curled and stretched, but all in a controlled, digestible way. Just when it seemed like the dancers would never come down from their noticeable high, the music changed to Arvo Part’s otherworldly Fratres for Violin, Strings and Percussion. A duet for Dan Walczak and Bret Easterling was emotionally tumultuous and physically grueling as the two men tried to escape or catch one another. Tenderness, violence, intimacy, aggression, and vulnerability distinctly shined through as the landscape continually shifted. Eventually, they drained each other’s energy (and the audience’s, in a thrilling way) and ended alone as they came down from a high.
There was very little time after the show to rank the pieces before the open dialogue began. Head-scratching and lost-in-thought expressions on many people’s faces suggested that judging the dances was a challenging assignment. The dancers and choreographers were all well-prepared and fully immersed in their performances, not to mention being gracious competitors. But the audience undoubtedly had the toughest role of the evening.
*On Friday morning, The Joyce Soho announced that Shannon Gillen and Elisabeth Motley of DOORKNOB COMPANY received the most votes on Thursday evening, and will perform in the finals on Sunday.