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Dance: Looking Back in Dance Pieces

By Francine L. Trevens
ART TIMES November/ December 2011

"The Table of Silence Project," performed 108 dancers, at Lincoln Center Plaza on 9/11 photo by TT Gold.
"The Table of Silence Project," performed 108 dancers, at Lincoln Center Plaza on 9/11 photo by TT Gold.

No one doubts that 9/11/01 changed America. Certainly it changed much of the Northeast where the attacks occurred. So it is not surprising, that to commemorate that disastrous day, a dance piece was created: "The Table of Silence Project." 
I was fortunate enough to be among the forty or so viewers of an open rehearsal of this spectacular and moving site-specific free dance event featuring an international array of dancers. The rehearsal was held on a sunny late summer afternoon in a very wide Studio at the Baryshnikov Arts Center on West 37th Street.

There were many body shapes, ethnicities and degrees of talent among the dancers at the rehearsal. Some moved with the grace and intensity demanded of the dance, others seemed almost to be walking through it. Even in this ragged, unfinished state I could feel the power that was building in this work. 

We were informed about 100 people from all over the world would participate in the actual performance, set for 9/11//11 to start at the very time the first plane hit the twin towers: 8:20 and ending at 8:46.
Being a night owl, I knew I would not attend the final performance, nor watch it streaming live on TV.
But my playwright friend, Paul Dexter, who accompanied me to the rehearsal and lives near Lincoln Center, said he would attend. He called me subsequently to say how exceptionally moving the dance had been. The accompanying photo indicates as much. He said there was a good sized crowd; all fascinated as the dancers first moved in front of them and then moved all about them.

Turns out "The Table of Silence Project," created by Jacqulyn Buglisi was performed by 108 dancers and was indeed a stunning work of physical expression of the hope of our world. I hope this amazing undertaking and emotionally charged dance piece can be repeated on future anniversaries of the event.

VON USSAR danceworks, photo Christopher Duggan, dancers Mindy Lai, Tina Vasquez, Nichelle Wright
VON USSAR danceworks, photo Christopher Duggan, dancers Mindy Lai, Tina Vasquez, Nichelle Wright

In mid-October I attended at the Alvin Ailey Center, the Dance Gallery Festival, where the dance pieces ranged from solo performers to up to nine dancers. It was produced and curated by VON USSAR danceworks under the artistic direction of Astrid von Ussar and Mojca Ussar. Founded to address the scarcity of affordable venues available for presentation of modern dance, the festival showcases the works of both established and emerging choreographers in a state of the art theater. It features original works from eight emerging and renowned choreographers from around the country whose dances have graced the stages of the festival over its five-year history. 

The performance on opening night, when I attended, was "Best of" Dance Gallery Festival, and was scheduled to present the best of the five year festival dances, which was to have included dances by Camille A. Brown, CorbinDances, Rick McCullough, Jeremy McQueen, NobleMotion Dance, somebodies dance theater, Mojca Ussar and VON USSAR danceworks.

As it turned out, “Full Moon”, the piece choreographed by Mojca Ussar and Von Ussar’s “Nothing but the Truth” Excerpt were both scrubbed due to injury. They were replaced by a different Von Ussar dance, “Fellow Travelers” scheduled for other evenings as well.

Thursday evening got off to an inauspicious start in two ways. First, the overeager and over loud audience was kept waiting in the lobby until 25 past 8 for a performance due to start at 8:30. No explanation was given until all were seated just before the dances began, when the change of program was announced. 

It was hot and overcrowded with too little seating in the lobby, and what seating there was proved difficult for older members of the audience to sit in or rise from. 

Concerto Nuovo - Jeremy McQueen choreographer,  photo by: Yi-Chun Wu
Concerto Nuovo - Jeremy McQueen choreographer,
photo by: Yi-Chun Wu

The second problem was that the first dance was performed virtually in the dark.  Whether it was under-rehearsed with the lighting, or the dancers just didn’t find their light, or the fact that the house lights were not sufficiently dimmed so that it was brighter where the audience sat than the stage, I do not know. What I do know is the dancers were energetic. Long limbed and slim torsoed, but not even for the curtain call were they visible. Frustrating for the audience and I am sure no pleasure for the hard-working performers. 

The audience, mostly of family, friends, fans and fellow dancers, was enthusiastic in its applause for each dance piece, even this first dance that was virtually impossible to see.

I am particularly fond of this Alvin Ailey Theater, but I was also distressed by how frequently dancers were performing prone downstage. Sight lines are good here but with a crowded house, it would be advisable to have dancers on the floor upstage where they are more likely to be visible to all of the audience.

A delightful little solo act choreographed and performed by Camille A. Brown called “The Evolution of a Secured Feminine” (Excerpt) had originally been commissioned by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2010. It was very well done — perky and pointed.

There is an old saying that one should save the best for last, and the program certainly did that.

The two best pieces of the evening, where everything was well-lit, were the last. The recorded musical accompaniments were not scratchy or otherwise technically distressing, for “Sarajevo” choreographed by Rick McCullough and “Concerto Nuovo” choreographed by Jeremy McQueen.

They were as different as two pieces could be, yet each achieved its aims brilliantly.
“Sarajevo” was a somber mood piece danced by Maggie Cloud and Jason McDonald who made difficult moves appear easy as they performed with such fluidity, grace and passion.

“Concerto Nuevo”, with its nine female dancers, all delightfully clad in flouncy white mini dresses, was an exuberant, joyous and fascinating piece as various patterns were formed across the expansive stage.

The whistles shouts, and endless applause, which greeted every performance, were particularly suitable to this.

It is fascinating to see how divergent various choreographic attempts can be, and disappointing to feel that the first number, which promised to be spectacular, was so undone by the lights and the bodies in different parts of the stage. All of these dancers and choreographers deserve more opportunities to present their works.