Amber Sloan at Arts on Site
Arts on Site
September 30, 2021
Performers: Louise Benkelman, Chelsea Hecht, Sy Lu, Jordan Morley, Nik Owens, Amber Sloan
Original Music by: Johnny Butler; Josh Benash and Caitlin Grace Bailey
Ranging from tender to witty and bold, Amber Sloan presents an evening of richly textured,
intimate, and intelligently crafted choreography. In her first full evening presentation of original work, Sloan showcases herself as a choreographer with much to say and the ability to say it with clarity and beauty.
In Apart/Together, household objects become metaphors for personal struggles. Sloan folds and unfolds a large cloth, first carefully, then with mounting agitation. Nik Owens attempts to balance a long piece of wood that continually topples over. These articles serve as dividers, partners, supports, and things under which to hide. At times they are in harmony with their objects, at others discord. Sloan swirls her cloth like a matador challenging a bull. Owens pokes his board with an accusing finger, taunting it to stay standing. As tensions mount and the items evade control, Sloan and Owens trade inanimate partners, repeating each other’s movement patterns, and we see their struggles in fresh ways. No longer objects to be controlled, the cloth and the wood become things to be treasured, appreciated, respected. In a post-performance talk, Sloan mentions that Apart/Together was created over Zoom during the pandemic. Her and Owens selected objects in their homes to dance with and those objects became symbols for loneliness and the unseen baggage we all try to hide. Sloan, whose husband is a painter, chose an old drop cloth while Owens wrestled with a shelf in his closet that kept falling down.
Yma Dream, set to an audio recording of Anne Bancroft performing a monologue of the same name, is humorous and playful while also being complex and utterly fascinating. In this dream as it is retold to a therapist, the narrator is giving a cocktail party in honor of Yma Sumac, the Peruvian singer. Miss Sumac suggests that she introduce the guests only by their first names. The guests include Ava Gardner, Abba Eban, Oona O'Neill, Ugo Betti, and Ona Munson, among others. Complications arise when the introductions are made. "Yma, Oona; Yma, Ava; Yma, Ona.” Brilliantly, Sloan creatss a movement vocabulary that perfectly matches Bancroft’s tongue twisting text. Each of the names are assigned a movement that has only slight variation from the movement before and builds in complexity as the piece progresses. Dancer Sy Lu executes each variation brilliantly and with impressive articulation. His expressive face registers compliance, annoyance, frustration, and panic.
An exploration of negative space and community, A Tangled Web, highlights the casual joy of connecting. Louise Benkelman, Jordan Morley and Sloan hold hands in a circle, weaving in and out of the space between their arms to kaleidoscopic effect. They let go for moments yet always return to the support of each other. Duets and solos form and reform, a complement to the jazzy piano score by Johnny Butler. When they roll backwards as the lights fade, we are reminded how important it is to weave nurturing social webs.
I have seen full nudity on stage before, and I’ll admit many of those performances felt gratuitous, aimed at shock value rather than meaningful expression. Not so with Golden Delicious. Dancers Chelsea Hecht and Jordan Morley leap, roll and run with confidence and determination. Athletic and full-bodied, the piece opens with Hecht standing behind Morley, her long dark hair cascading over his shoulder, mixing with his slightly shorter locks. He tenderly strokes her tresses and the delicate touch of their hands is sensual and curious. As a modern-day Adam and Eve, Hecht and Morley are harmonious and innocent, their bent limbs and lunging torsos seeking discovery and newness. Suddenly their serenity turns cold and their accusing eyes reproach us for gazing on their exposed bodies. They cover themselves in clothing and repeat their duet, but their movements don’t yield the same power. Their hair, at first a symbol of harmony, becomes a weapon used to manipulate the other. As they try again and again to connect and share their weight, the intimacy shatters and they cannot hold on.