Martha Graham Studio Theater
May 7, 2023
New York City is not an easy place to produce dance. The cost of renting studio and theater space, plus hiring backstage crew and talent, can be prohibitive to aspiring choreographers. Eryc Taylor Dance offers assistance through their New Choreographer Grant program. Celebrating its 10-year anniversary with works by 2023 recipients Lindsey Jennings, Robert Jamie Mason, Uila Marx, and Sarah Lutzky, ETD supports the next generation of dance makers by awarding each artist $1,000 to create and present their first piece as professionals.
As any seasoned choreographer knows, creating dances with depth and sophistication is a career-long process. This process relies on time and experience, and teaches dance makers to trust themselves, their ideas, and their choices. ETD’s New Choreographer grant is an important opportunity for emerging artists to gain that experience and the four pieces presented in this year's program highlight both the joys and the challenges of being a beginner.
Her Mercurial Resilience, choreographed by Lindsey Jennings, illustrates the feminine capacity for emotional endurance. Dancers Lily Gelfand and Maddie Hopfield lift and gather a large piece of blue tulle, manipulating the gossamer fabric as if it were a heavy object. They raise it with effort or cradle it with care. One dancer becomes entwined during a series of knee spins as the other circles freely, the tulle representing empathy as both a burden and a gift. When they lay the tulle between them like a long river, mirroring each other's movement from opposite banks, a sense of collective experience emerges.
In the pendulum of collecting sand and ribbons, choreographer Sarah Lutzky presents shared experiences in a different way. Through small gestures- fingers flicking invisible dust and hands cupping a mouth- Lutzky builds larger movement phrases that illustrate the passing of time. Dancers slowly crawl across the stage as if they are the hands of a clock. Sudden falls to the floor and running patterns interrupt the hypnotic pace and moments of stillness arise and dissolve as the six dancers fall in and out of step with each other. The effect is spellbinding.
Robert Jamie Mason’s Wide–Awake, a story ballet told through classical and modern dance vocabularies, features the personification of various mental states at war within an individual mind. Although performed masterfully by dancers Caroline Alter, Isoke Wright, Lucia Gagliardone, Rush Johnston and Mason, the choreography was more predictable classroom steps than evocative movement.
The most playful dance of the evening, Uila Marx’s Dear Young One addresses heavy topics with lightness and joy. A love letter to queer identifying youth, Dear Young One is part party, part manifesto. Opening with Prince’s “I Would Die for You,” dancers run, shimmy and spin. They greet each other with hugs and smiles and approach the audience with open arms. Slowly their smiles fade and their arms lower. The acceptance they are searching for is not available. With intelligent craftsmanship, Marx creates an experience of belonging from the inside out. Dancers stop to watch one another in short solos. They take turns following each other in moments of structured improvisation. They each add their own unique flair to similar movements. In this way, Marx and her cast affirm each other and their choices, building a bond. When they approach the audience again at the close of the piece, their outstretched arms meet the embrace of strangers.
While all four pieces possess compelling moments and strong ideas, there are hallmarks of the novice choreographer present, most notable being the lack of nuance in timing and dynamics that provide qualitative richness. Her Mercurial Resilience employs a pace that, while meditative and calming, lasts too long. Jenning’s text about resiliency and struggle, read over music and projected on screen, is too on-the-nose. Lutsky, who is definitely onto something with her pacing choices, can exaggerate variations in tempo to add contrast. For Mason, a technically proficient and well trained dancer, stepping out of his comfort zone can do wonders for his choreographic invention.
Being a beginner is an exciting thing to be! Based on their first steps, there is much to look forward to from these artists as their careers continue to develop.