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Cecly Placenti, Artistic Director

  • Writer's pictureMiranda Stuck

Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance at The Jack Crystal Theater

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Choreographer: Cherylyn Lavagnino

Co-Composer, Keyboards: Scott Killian

Co-Composer, Violin, Engineering: Jacob Lawson

Co-Composer, Lyricist, Vocals: Carol Lipnik

Writer, Narrator: Brian Sostek

Music Credit: Recomposed by Max Richter, Vivaldi - The Four Seasons and other Richter compositions

Costume Designer: Christopher Metzger

Lighting Designer: Frank DenDanto III

Stage Manager: Stacey Boggs

CLD DANCERS: Alexis Branagan, Dervla Carey-Jones, Justin Faircloth, Erin Gallagher, Dorothea Garland, Gwen Gussman, Corinne Hart, Barrington Hinds, Michael Miles, Emma Pajewski, Philip Strom and Claire Westby

Two dancers in bright, colorful costumes hug on the floor while another appears to be mid-run behind them.
Photo by John Eng

Cherylyn Lavagnino, Artistic Director of Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance, is a choreographer with a deep interest in the human condition, and creates movements with an intention for advocacy, particularly to issues faced by women and people of color. At the Jack Crystal Theater, Lavagnino presents two contrasting works- Mythologies (2021) inspired by stories of Ancient Greece, and The Winter’s Tale based on a Shakespearian play.

Mythologies, a historically fictional piece set during the Trojan War, has a modern twist. Split into four sections, groups of dancers portray different characters- sirens, Amazonian warriors, and the Sacred Band of Thebes with an emphasis on interchanging gender constructs. Following narration by writer and dramaturge Brian Sostek, dancers Alexis Branagan, Gwendolyn Gussman, and Claire Westby, who represent the sirens, perform sensual, relaxed movements lying on the floor as if they are mermaids basking at the seaside. Their long hair flowing and at times intermingling, the dancers connect to their femininity. Slowly they peel away from each other until only one is left on stage. A fascinating pas de deux ensues between the siren and a Band of Thebes. Lavagnino uses these characters to generate a balancing magnetism between strong, combative energies with soft femininity. Her attention to choices regarding challenging gender norms through casting and movement is unique and ardent.

Three dancers sit on stage reaching for their feet. Their hair flying upward from motion.
Photo by Charles Roussel

Complimenting lyricist and singer Carol Lipnik’s free flowing vocals, dancers Barrington Hinds, Philip Strom, and Michael Wayne Miles Jr. move in interlacing pathways across the stage. Jumps defy gravity and raised fists convey intense strength. As the groups of characters interweave, five women representing the Amazons unite. Stacatto soutenus on pointe and slicing jetés provide a sharpness to Mythologies, and contrast every other movement section that came before. Postural and statue-like, the Amazons use each other for support as they break out in springing jumps, whirling runs, and floating balances. During the duration of the work, the sirens seem to write the choreographic script in terms of introducing new characters and the order in which new mythological groups are sequenced.

Lavagnino’s second work, The Winter’s Tale, illustrates her long-running choreographic emphasis on sexual politics and gender norms, specifically shedding light on the societal challenges faced by women. The Winter’s Tale provides a depiction of acts one through four of the Shakespearean play of the same name, mixed with themes of love, forgiveness, and loyalty. A high-strung note of violin echoes as an eerie, gray windowpane-like reflection emerges over the stage. Dancer Alexis Branagan enters walking backwards, and her solo initiates momentum for other dancers to rush on and off the stage. Some execute exquisite partnering while others greet each other in a social manner, keeping the audience engaged for the next chapter. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons recomposed by Max Richter takes the work on an emotional journey, each song introducing a new sequence, such as a royal court welcoming Polixenes, King of Bohemia, danced by Gwendolyn Gussman. “Lavagnino uses poignant gestures, inspired by sign language, in her dance vocabulary to make the choreography more human and universal,” states the program.

Three dancers connect through touch in a totem pole style arrangement.
Photo by John Eng

There is an underlying sorrowfulness in moments of the choreography, reflecting the Shakespearean storyline in themes of grief, jealousy, and the yearning for reconciliation. Barrington Hinds, playing Leontes, King of Sicilia, showcases these themes well during a sequence when he rejects the oracle, danced by Erin Gallagher, in a state of madness. Airy rond de jambes and floating lifts give Lavagnino’s work an effortless feel.

Lavagnino possesses the unique skill to intermix historical narratives with advocacy for modern-day social issues, stringing together two types of voices into one choreographic work with a message. Through Mythologies and A Winter’s Tale, the audience sees the perfect balance of old and new narratives through dedicated, expressive dancing. Each dancer brings their personality into their roles, owning their characters while bringing their technique and artistry to the forefront. “Eloquence must be something Lavagnino asks of her dancers,” says Deborah Jowitt, from Arts Journal. “…the dancers gaze intently at one another and the space, while the choreography bends the ballet choreography to suit whatever possesses them or invades them from the music.”

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