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Cecly Placenti, Artistic Director

  • Writer's pictureCecly Placenti

Celebrating Women Composers

Neville Dance Theatre

Manhattan Movement Arts Center

March 25, 2023

Artistic Director: Brenda R, Neville

Choreographers: Brenda R. Neville, Kristen Klein, Lauren Settembrino

Dancers: Mackenzie Allan, Kayla Armgardt, Laura Dearman, Tori Hey, Mauricio Vera Nunez, Shoshana Mozlin, Cassandra Punzo, Charles E. Scheland, Lauren Settembrino, Amanda Summers

Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir with Hauschka & Reynolds, Helen Jane Long, Molly Joyce, Zoe Keating, Lo Kristenson, Valentina Magaletti, Nkeiru Okoye, Caroline Shaw, Zamilska

Photo by Andrew Mauney

Celebrating Women’s History Month by rejoicing in diverse female creators, Neville Dance Theatre hosts an eclectic program of choreography and music. Six female artists contribute to the evening; three choreographers and three composers. The program which includes three world premieres as well as NDT repertory selections, investigates notions of self identity and offers the audience an array of dance styles. Ranging from classical ballet to contemporary, each selection honors the power in the female dancing body: grace, strength, and sensitivity.

With intelligent craftsmanship, Artistic Director Brenda Neville melds harmony and counterpoint to create works that are serene rather than lulling. In Banter (Adagio Excerpt), set to music by Canadian-American composer Zoe Keating, Neville uses complementary movement layering to create rich texture that compliments the dense musical structures of Keating’s cello. Three duets mirror each other’s choreographic framework- legs flutter in a butterfly-like fashion, lifts gently ascend and descend, and body positions mimic each other. The work has a cyclical feel as the dancers execute correlative movements at irregular intervals and arabesque’s slice the air at varying angles. Steeped in classical ballet, Neville’s take on the idiom offers variety. During one duet the dancers’ arms unfold and press down in syncopated rhythms as their spines contract and legs rotate inward. The effect of merging classical ballet with contemporary forms is alluring if not groundbreaking.

Photo by Andrew Mauney

Neville’s world premiere, Identities, poses questions about the distinction of individual versus group expression. In one section labeled I/Me, performers offer their self-perceived core traits and interpret them in short solos that overlap, creating pairings and trios. Words such as steadfast, self-centered, intentional and kind manifest in movements that are quirky, sculptural and unique. These disparate pairings accumulate into unison dancing in the section We/Us as the choreography becomes more fluid yet less interesting, posing the question: Are we more compelling as individuals? Neville uses accumulation to establish a sense of harmony as one dancer begins a movement and others join in one at a time. Suddenly everyone is dancing together, reminding us that in a group we can use our unique skills to strengthen the whole.

The evening's standouts however come from the two guest choreographers- Kristen Klein and Lauren Settembrino. Settembrino, also a Neville Dance Theater company member, premiers her own solo, Flee Porneia, which portrays the struggle between conventional belief systems and personal desires. Set to two driving songs by Zamilska, a Polish composer of electronic music, Settembrino begins on the floor tracing a half circle with her thumb. Her hands clench in gestures of constraint and her spine ripples with sensual undulations, drawing attention to the process of rejecting traumatic systems. An intensely fierce and magnetic performer, Settembrino infuses her movements with both power and femininity as we witness her battle through stages of suppression, inner turmoil, and eventual pleasure.

Photo by Andrew Mauney

Klein’s choreography in The Pursuit coils and snaps like a spring. Dancers Mackenzie Allen, Shoshana Mozlin, Amanda Summers and Settembrino advance and retreat along a sharp diagonal of light towards a distant point that sometimes seems coveted and at others, abhorred. The galvanic music of Valentina Magletti is the perfect accompaniment to Klein’s capricious, insectile movement style. Emphasizing the contrast between weight and lightness, Klein explores humanity’s collective drive for forward progress as she highlights the ways that drive manifests in each individual. As the dancers climb over one another or push others ahead of themselves, they vie for arrival as much as they fear failure. Eventually they run full speed towards the corner, together, and we are once again made aware of the power in unity.

Neville Dance Theatre’s all female program does more than celebrate Women’s History Month, it reminds us of the importance of female creators collaborating to fortify one another, and celebrates the distinctiveness in individual expression. The evening marks an important platform that hopefully NDT will continue to foster as it reminds us to celebrate female voices beyond the month of March.

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