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Dances By Very Young Choreographers

As I watched this evening of works made by 13 choreographers who grew up in the NYC-based after school dance program run by Ellen Robbins, I couldn’t help but think of a heated debate the dance community took up sometime in the aughts over the question, can choreography be taught? Peter Martins, then director of New York City Ballet, claimed it could not. Nearly everyone else disagreed. Surely this Dances By Very Young Choreographers alumni concert erases any lingering doubt. Robbins, now in her 41st year of teaching, produces a public show every year of the remarkable creations of her young makers, ages six to eighteen. One can assume many now populate arts audiences everywhere. And then there are those featured in this alumni concert at New York Live Arts, who go on to dance degrees and performance careers of their own.

Performance

Dances by Very Young Choreographers, Alumni Concert, directed by Ellen Robbins

Place

New York Live Arts, New York, NY, January 28, 2023

Words

Karen Hildebrand

“Switchbacks” by Saskia Globig and Michael Ipsen, part of Dances by Very Young Choreographers Alumni Concert. Photograph by Alice Chacon

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While the concert itself had the feel of a recital—mostly solo, some duets, one group piece on display—the technique, stage presence, and production values carried the evening beyond, with an eclectic mix that spanned musical theater, lyrical dance, physical comedy, original text, digital projection, and music of David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Nine Inch Nails, and Erik Satie. All of it impressive, a few works stood out for this viewer.

Lina Dahbour’s “Light Meditation 04,” part of Dances by Very Young Choreographers Alumni Concert. Photograph by Alice Chacon

Lina Dahbour’s “Light Meditation 04,” took place entirely as a projection on the rear stage wall. First we could see only feet framed in a small pane of video at the bottom of the screen. Then the pane started jumping around, alighting at various spots across the screen the way fireflies might on a summer night. When at one point the pane came to a rest, the feet continued to skitter, giving a sense the movement was both inside and outside. In the next section, the frame enlarged to reveal a human figure dotted with lights that reminded me of motion capture technology. Expanding even more, the camera then zoomed in on a female torso. When she shined handheld lights onto her skin, she glowed and I thought, oh, we’re seeing the firefly close up. The view changed as she moved her arm, thus shifting selected body parts into and out of darkness.

“Switchbacks” by Saskia Globig and Michael Ipsen, part of Dances by Very Young Choreographers Alumni Concert. Photograph by Alice Chacon

Another use of video was in the duet, “Switchbacks,” by Saskia Globig and Michael Ipsen. Dressed in white jeans and t-shirts the two embraced in a slow dance. Globig held a video camera at her side, thigh level, covertly projecting a cubist view of parts you might catch out of the corner of your eye. The two passed the camera back and forth as they continued to move tightly together, entangled, shifting weight, lunging. Globig had a gorgeous solo where she danced in front of a projection of her oversized head. For Ipsen’s solo, Globig brought the camera to her eye like a filmmaker. When the dancers took their partnering to the floor, the camera cropped the view in a way that brought our sightline level with the floor. The two dancers became a quartet with their oversized doppelgangers performing behind them.

I appreciated Morgan Cragnotti and Krista Jansen’s “Alone Some and Twosome” for the way the dancers deftly animated the music, both the keyboard notes of Erik Satie and the electronic rock of Nine Inch Nails. A trill on the keyboard was also a trill of the fingers; a flexing ankle responded to two repeated musical notes. While kneeling precariously on a stool with arms reaching to the floor the dancer hopped in a way that corresponded to a triple chord. The quirky vocabulary was as precise as it was whimsical.

“Whitehall Terminal 3:56 pm” by Amelia Dawe Sanders. Photograph by Alice Chacon

The most ambitious work was “Whitehall Terminal 3:56 pm” by Amelia Dawe Sanders with a group of seven dancers. Sanders, in a bright lavender skirt and striped top, stood out among a throng of commuters that milled about a train station. When the milling crowd coalesced into a tight cluster and shuffled off as one unit, the dancers became both the crowded train car and the passengers within. The lavender girl was left behind to twirl and swoop, happily exploring the space, speeding up, then stopping. It was a pleasure to see the commuters return twice more and repeat their milling and clustering. Each time their locomotion varied slightly. One time they stepped with a bouncy cadence achieved with a relevé on one foot, holding out the opposite leg. The next, each dragged a foot behind them in a way that caused lurching. The single happy traveler in the station remained a constant. It was a charming way to end a successful night.

Karen Hildebrand


Karen Hildebrand is former editorial director for Dance Magazine and served as editor in chief for Dance Teacher for a decade. An advocate for dance education, she was honored with the Dance Teacher Award in 2020. She follows in the tradition of dance writers who are also poets (Edwin Denby, Jack Anderson), with poetry published in many literary journals and in her book, Crossing Pleasure Avenue (Indolent Books). She holds an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Originally from Colorado, she lives in Brooklyn.

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