Not all the reasons to celebrate Zvi Gotheiner’s newest work were immediately visible as the company of seven dancers took to the black box stage at New York Live Arts last week. “Migrations” is the first work Gotheiner has made since suffering a stroke in March 2021. That he is able to choreograph at this stage of his healing process is a credit to his dancers, including associate artistic director Doron Perk, and other longtime collaborators. Also, the announcement that Gotheiner’s long-running Maggie Black inspired ballet class has returned in person to City Center is welcome news to many who for years considered it essential as coffee to their daily routine.
“Migrations” opens with a tight cluster of dancers maneuvering for space. They exhibit all manner of bird behavior as they flick their feet and lurch about, eventually striking a classic V formation of geese in flight, arms extended as wings. With ensemble work that branches into various solos and duets, “Migrations” weaves together the bird motif and a more human iteration of the term. Together, they make a statement about the way climate change, war, and social unrest impact the movement of all beings. Yet the two themes don’t easily co-exist in this production. It’s a bit of a disconnect when in two segments the dancers lower their centers of gravity into a wide straddle, stamp their feet and slap their torsos in a syncopated rhythm that brings to mind the work of Batsheva Dance Company, where the Israel born Gotheiner got his start. Even so, the quality of dancing lends an overall continuity—and there is much to appreciate.
Standout performances to note are Leslie Merced, who moves on all fours with the panther-like stealth of capoeira, and Nat Wilson, who graces a bird persona with the unexpected posture of Spanish flamenco. An intricate pairing of Matilda Mackey and Anson Zwingelberg has the two always in contact with each other—until they abruptly spin apart. They pause to consider and then begin again, round two. It’s as if the man cannot exist on his own without support of the woman. In a striking vignette for two men, Wilson draws a line on the floor and Perk straddles it with the wobbly antics of a monkey. The line is drawn and redrawn, sometimes encircling like a lasso. Is it a roadmap or is it a boundary?
Despite the cultural relevance of his material, it’s Gotheiner’s own personal story that truly shone through the evening. In a rousing curtain call moment, the choreographer emerged from the wings to take a bow, his struggle to regain mobility fully evident. “Migrations” is a beautiful demonstration of the power of a devoted community to persist.