"You Are (Variations)," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Subterranean Homesick Blues"
The Jerry H. Labowitz Theater for the Performing Arts
The Gallatin School at NYU
New York New York
November 22, 2011
By Michael Popkin
Copyright 2011 By Michael Popkin
Kathryn Posin's studio performance of three dances was a fresh and inventive mixture of ballet and social dance to Steve Reich and a pair of Bob Dylan songs. She managed to turn the very small performance space (at most twenty feet by thirty with the audience right on top of the stage) into a resource by utilizing top rate dancers, choosing her material judiciously, and making choreography that read clearly in the intimate setting.
Posin was the recipient of New York University's Jewish Studies grant. In her only obvious tip of her hat to its theme, the show led off with "You Are (Variations)," based on Reich's pulsing and layered 2006 symphonic poem of the same title, in which the composer explores Rabbi Nachman of Breslov's mystical statement: "You are wherever your thoughts are." Posin set a series of entrances for Momchil Mladenov, Violeta Angelova, and Sara Ivan - all most lately of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet. The dance template was strictly classical and the movement surprisingly large scale and physical despite the physical confinement. The choreography seemed to push against the theater's limitations, using the compression at the sides and rear to power the movement the way a dancer uses the floor in a plié. Besides solos and duets for each of the dancers, the central structure was repeated trios that placed Mladenov linked between the two women in more weighted and expressive movement. It wasn't clear what he was expressing, or how any of this connected with the music's mystical theme, but the dance succeeded despite these murky points because of the way Posin utilized each dancer's individuality. They were strong and personally striking performers who got and rewarded your attention, and you came away from the work feeling that you knew what was most individual about each of them.
The two dances to Dylan songs were duets that displayed Ashley Tuttle to marvelous effect. With her background first as a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre and then as a leading woman for Twyla Tharp on Broadway, she instinctively blends classical and social dance idioms and the material Posin set was perfectly pitched for her talent. In "Mr. Tambourine Man," she portrayed the song's narrator, pursuing Craig Salstein (an ABT soloist with similar dance gifts) around the stage as the mythical tambourine man of the title, trying and sometimes succeeding in getting his attention, both of them using the tambourine as a prop. He looked as if he were supposed to be a genie from a bottle; Tuttle, costumed and coiffed to suggest an ingénue from the early 1960's, finally succeeded in getting him to "play a song" for her. Meanwhile the choreography (suggesting narrative but not actually plotted) utilized charming snatches of social dance - a swing of the hips here, some heel-toe jitterbug steps there - blending all of it in a base of ballet steps. At one point Salstein did a series of barrel turns, tambourine in hand - with the inevitable echo of "La Esmeralda" in drag.
"Subterranean Homesick Blues" paired Tuttle with Ryan Redmond, an impressive and strong dramatic dancer with a powerful, modern dance physique. Posin's choreography here (as in "Tambourine Man") again suggested snatches of narrative to match the song's monologue: when Dylan intoned "Look out kid, there's something you did," for example, the dance had the briefest passage of flowing vignette alongside the phrase. But unlike the first song, the jitterbug and ballet were mixed with a whiff of hip-hop as Posin implicitly pointed out how the rhythms anticipated rap. Like Paul Taylor's work, neither "Mr. Tambourine Man" nor "Subterranean Homesick Blues" took their iconic pop songs at face value, but instead treated them from a cultural and ironic distance that avoided being trite and pretentious while adding levels of meaning. We're neary fifty years down the road from all of this, these dances said. Here are humor, ebulllience and the innocence of youth. But also a whiff of nostalgia for their loss.
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Posin: Sara Ivan, Momchil Mladenov and Momchil Mladenov in "You Are (Variations)"