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Dance: Politics and Dance – Tenth Year of Freedom

By Francine L. Trevens
ART TIMES February online 2011

Nejla Y. Yatkin Dance Nejla Y. Yatkin in Journey To The One, A Tango
Photo by Lois Greenfield 

WHAT IS DANCE, actually? When younger, I thought it was movement to music. Now I realize it is movement to a message from inside your body. It arises from the same instinct that makes one paint or write, the need to express an emotion.

Still, most dance is set to or accompanied by music – though there have been some exceptions. One such occurred when I brought a classical music lover to her first dance performance. She was concentrating on reading the program to absorb all it could tell her. She blocked out the announcement made over the loudspeaker saying two dance numbers had been alternated in sequence, first in the printed program would be performed third instead.

So, when the first number ended, she said, “I could see all the things they said were in the piece – but what happened to the accompanying music for which they gave a composer credit?” I told her the dance piece she had seen was not first in the program, but third, and that she had not listened when the announcement was made. She was mortified.

This brought home to me that having someone tell you what a dance should convey, you can super impose those images on the actual movements you are watching. Rather like reading all the reviews and then looking for those extolled moments in the book.

I prefer not reading too much in the program until after the performance. I want to see how the work talks to me – or fails to do so. I do not want a crib sheet, as many kids used to use in college

The WallAhmaud Culver with members of NY2Dance
Photo by Yi-Chun Wu

Seeing Nejla Y. Yatkin Dance Celebrates 10th Anniversary Season…Dancing to Freedom – 10 years of Independent Dance – was an ungainly title for the evening and very much a guide to what one was expected to see.

The dances were exuberant. The dancers were agile and adept. Yet, what remained with me afterwards was a spoken line – the choreographer, Ms Yatkin, had been born in Berlin – she had never known the city without the wall, had never known there had been one larger city. The taking down of the wall was a life altering experience for her, and that was what much of the evening conveyed.

For her, the removal of the wall was as if a black and white movie suddenly broke into Technicolor – as in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Her dances often showed the exuberance and joy of having attained full freedom.

Her dance, swathed in a luxurious red dress with a long train, which was twice her height and width was particularly stellar. You felt she was being smothered, shadowed, constricted by this red which wrapped around her and then flared off in back up in the air like a peacock tail. Very graphic and gorgeous dance.

As seems to be the style these days, projections were used in the long piece, Wallstories, which had its New York premiere the evening I saw the performance at Alvin Ailey Citigroup theatre. Often such projections are gratuitous. More often they are distracting from the dancers themselves. But the video by Mike Rogers and Ms. Yatkin was an integral part of this dance about the life-changing event from the Russian side on the taking down of the Berlin Wall. Freedom was an alien concept to this group of young Berliners. It was beautifully depicted by all the dancers.

Her choice of music throughout the evening was surprising at times, but always appropriate for what her dance was saying – whether it was by Pink Floyd, Bach, Larsen & Sherman or Lila Downs and Eliot Goldenthal.

Nejla Y. Yatkin DanceJessica Weiss with members of NY2Dance
Photo by Yi-Chun Wu

While the dances presented are underwritten by such impressive sources as the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (an agency of the National Endowment for the Arts), The University of Notre Dame, the Goethe-Institute in New York, the Princess Grace Awards and NY2Dance, the Historic Dance Foundation, and a raft of private donors, Nejla T. Yatkin and her company was an unknown quantity to me and my dance friends.

Her program – which I finally read, notes she seeks what Isaiah Berlin refers to as 
“an art awareness of the deep currents, a comprehension of the connection between all things, an awareness of the present as well as that which transcends time and space.”

In the spring, she will be working on a new piece and conducting residencies: In Match a choreographic residency at the University of Notre Dame, later a residency in Honduras supported by the National Performance Network.

She will perform in New York in a program called Dances from the Heart, organized by Broadway Cares/Dancers Responding to Aids.

Why not seek her out for an unusual and memorable dance experience? If you have plans for programs about freedom, recent history, the Berlin Wall, contact her company to add a live and lively element to your program.

Formerly a daily newspaper dance and theater critic, Francine L. Trevens is also a writer of several books, the last of which, “Short Plays to Long Remember” won a 2010 Next Generation INDIE Finalist Award. Follow her blog