E-Moves 15, Program B
New York, NY
April 5, 2014
by Martha Sherman
copyright © 2014 by Martha Sherman
The “E” in E-Moves stands for emerging and evolving choreography. But the energy and eclecticism of the festival, now in its 15th season, also deserve nods. It crams as much in as possible: two alternating programs (A and B), each included three dance excerpts by emerging choreographers who have benefited from coaching by more experienced artists; two hip-hop performers; and a full work to close. With so many different forms, and so many artists included, part of the message here is: Pay Attention. It’s a heartening one. The festival spotlights African-American dance artists, and there are many to choose from, both those who are coming up, and those who are here to teach, coach, and support.
The dance excerpts in Program B leaned toward stories, and were more linear than abstract. The most rousing of the short pieces was “Little Red Rooster in a Red House.” It was danced by a hip-swaying trio, led by choreographer Rashida Bumbray, to the blues standard “Little Red Rooster.” Bumbray and her other dancers, Kristal Boyd and Francisca Chaidez-Gutierrez (and, in this performance, a special guest appearance by Adenike Sharpley) all seemed larger than life. As they swayed, they bent back into ecstatic curves that could easily have laid them into baptismal waters. Bumbray wore tap shoes, and as the three danced in unison, her tapping cut a beat through the music. Each of the dancers took a soulful improv turn and the audience rocked along.
The other two excerpts were Christopher Rudd’s “A Bird in the Hand,” and Maria Bauman’s “glory time: a creation navigation myth.” Rudd’s work was a cautionary fable of a man moving unfaithfully between his wife and his male lover, and eventually getting the comeuppance he deserved. In Rudd’s duets with each of his partners, the bodies entwined in idiosyncratic movements -- Carlos Kerr, the male lover, curled tenderly around Rudd’s chest, then their weight shifted in a reversal of roles and Kerr cradled Rudd. With Connie Sousek, the wife character, Rudd pulled and pushed her in conflicted embraces, as Kerr huddled alone upstage.
“glory time,” was the most abstract, though it also focused on relationships. Choreographer Bauman danced with Kevin “Moicano” Chau and Chanon Judson-Johnson, evoking divinity and creation. As a repeated chorus, the three wrapped tightly together on the floor, rocking, or spooning. Bauman was a life force in her opening solo as she stretched and twitched in a frantic march across the stage, humming along with an electronic score.
All of the dances were high-energy, but the evening’s most vibrant dancing was in the hip-hop entr’acte between the staged dance acts, an improvisation duel between two skilled women -- “battle performers” Angel and Dura, moderated by another female powerhouse, MC Rockafella. Dura used more traditional patterns (even hip-hop now has its traditions) including twitching robotic shifts, moonwalk reverses, and head spins. Angel started with intense action, but drew the audience along in slow transitions between her moves, her confident attitude part of the draw. Rockafella egged on the audience to cheer for their favorite, but the duelists themselves were the most supportive of each others’ exertions, a battle between friends rather than rivals.
The evening’s final work, Stefanie Batten Bland’s “Madonna,” was also narrative, as well as a kind of performance battle. Here, the energized solos switched between two black Virgin Marys, each painted with brilliant and shiny black designs, which highlighted their own body features. As they alternated, Latra Wilson nested downstage right in between her dancing, and Bland, was wrapped then emerged from the cascade of gauze that filled the upstage left corner.
After a slow start by Wilson, the duet became interesting. Bland emerged from the large cocoon of gauze, first with one foot and leg, its silhouette dancing in the fabric. Slowly, her body unfolded -- one leg, the next, then one arm, and a second. Even when the next revelation was predictable, the shapes, and her sensual languor and command of the movement were mesmerizing. In her last, frantic solo, her body twitched and shifted. As she finally turned, and we could see her bright face and eyes, she looked like a magical creature emerging from the deep.
Wilson’s later solos were also more dramatic than the opening, when she moved through crablike backbends and low lunges. The highlight was when she unwrapped her gauze gown, wriggled the masses of cloth around her upper torso, and twisted them onto her head into a huge, gorgeous, and unexpected headdress.
Although each work kept our attention, it was more particular details that stood out from these developing artists rather than full works. – Bumbray’s powerful voice and body owning her sassy blues, Bland’s silhouetted toes slinking through a gauzy curtain, or Angel’s self-confidence and fearlessness. “E-Moves 15” insists that attention be paid to these moments, and we all must insist that these opportunities continue to exist.