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From Blossoms to Moss

I’d nearly forgotten the many pleasures of watching dance from a folding chair on a riser in a SoHo loft, sound of sirens and traffic rising from the street outside to compete with the more subtle notes of a cello. Such was the occasion of Catherine Tharin Dance at the Douglas Dunn Studio, November 3, as a crowd of friends and collaborators gathered to witness four recent solos and duets by Tharin plus two films, and work of guest choreographer, Esmé Julien Boyce, who is currently artist in residence at Baryshnikov Arts Center. The space was abuzz with mini reunions and new friendships in progress before the house lights dimmed.

Performance

Catherine Tharin Dance

Place

Douglas Dunn Studio, New York, NY, November 3, 2023

Words

Karen Hildebrand

Amelia Atteberry in “Animal Rights.” Photograph by Julie Lemberger

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Tharin brings to her art a perspective influenced by dancing with Erick Hawkins’ company for seven years and curating performance at 92nd Street NY for fifteen. The evening’s selections had an ensemble feel. Each work opened a unique conversation, yet all spoke the same language—gentle and precise movement contained to a small range, a good deal of floor work—connected by complementary musical choices composed by Sam Crawford, Eleanor Hovda, and Jon Kinzel, and costumes by Colleen Gibbs Howland and Sue Julien that cast a net of whimsical translucent sheen over it all. The evening was consistently charming, well-crafted and paced. Animals were invoked.

In “Animal Rights,” Amelia Atteberry, covered in fish scale like flaps, moved with feline grace and attack. For “Of You From Here,” Atteberry and Dylan Baker became avian based on a poem by Karen Enns, “A Gull Will Almost Land.” In certain unison phrases they appeared two dimensional like Egyptian figures on an urn. Layered onto their movement was the staccato repetition of spoken word from the poem—"wings will catch, will catch,” “go on, go on, surrender . . . not like giving in, exactly.” In one wonderful bit, they engaged in a barrage of cacophonous chatter delivered rapid fire. They also counted aloud in varying series of fives. During the talkback, the performers revealed they had rehearsed with a metronome to accomplish the precise timing. 

Hannah Kearney and Amelia Atteberry in “An Armful of Blossoms.” Photograph by Julie Lemberger

A seasoned collaborator of Tharin, David Parker, who is also known for humor and percussive dance of the Bang Group, performed a sober piece, “When you open my letter” with a masterful restraint—balancing on one leg in low second, for example, with the lifted leg rotating awkwardly inward; or a small hop in place on one leg, while the arms beckoned in a scooping motion. Parker conveyed vulnerability and hesitation with slow controlled turns and a touch of wobble.

Shown between the live dance works, the films opened a window into the world outside. “The Bells of St. Genevieve” by Liz Schneider-Cohen (concept and choreography by Tharin) featured Sarah Bauer performing in another loft space—a sort of nesting doll effect of studio within studio—this one with a bright red barn door that served as a slash of lipstick on a pale face. The dancing here was more expansive as Bauer had the entire studio to stretch out, leggy, in a flowy off-shoulder white tunic. The camera became her partner with multiple jump cuts that changed sequence, angle, and location: a metal staircase where Bauer was shot from below, and the building’s snow-covered roof. Zooming to a close-up of her face, the movement of Bauer’s eyes became the dance.

Esmé Julien Boyce in “Moss and Other Things.” Photograph by Julie Lemberger

Lora Robertson’s film, The Stream Wet Earth (conceived by Tharin), was a gorgeous collage of beguiling figurative imagery. A Greek chorus trio of dancers dressed in black (Boyce, Racy Brand, and Susan Rainey) waved their arms to mimic the dried stalks surrounding them in a cornfield. The camera cut to a herd of antlered deer running in a snowy forest, then to the shimmering water of a swimming pool, and to droplets of dew on a bare branch. The second part, “Summer” had the dancers in white, stretched between columns of a classic building. They frolicked Isadora Duncan-like in eyelet lace in a meadow and returned to the pool for a swim. 

After each film we returned to live performance with fresh eyes. Boyce’s “Moss and Other Things” also presented a fresh take as guest choreographer, yet her style seemed very much in kinship with Tharin’s. Beginning in a crouch, Boyce repeated one central sequence of floorwork several times, each starting over from the beginning. The third time she introduced variations, taking the movement to standing. It was satisfying to spot familiar shapes transposed onto a different plane.

A premiere of Tharin’s “An Armful of Blossoms” ended the evening with Atteberry and Hannah Kearney as a mirrored pair exploring boundaries between the self and other. The costumes were made each with one puffy sleeve and one bared arm—as if the two dancers, when placed next to each other, shared a single tunic. The two were often slightly off-kilter—in balances they fell out of, as well as off-center turns. Sometimes the pair shared weight back and forth. Sometimes they moved in unison. Always they remained acutely aware of each other. Grady Shea’s lighting design at times expanded their duo to a sextet with their shadows multiplied to an oversized foursome on the rear wall. A beautiful sequence had them seated on the floor as if rowing a boat, but close enough that one was held in the lap of the other. They tumbled over and over as if the boat overturned, while also switching their positions smooth as synchronized swimmers.

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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