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Cecly Placenti, Artistic Director

  • Writer's pictureCecly Placenti

OcampoWang Dance and Janis Brenner

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

Take Root at Green Space

Apr 15, 2023

OcampoWang Dance

Co-Artistic Directors: Paul Ocampo and Evelyn Wang

Performers: John Heiserman (tenor) Dancers: Marianna Allen, Judah Marable, Louiessa Wang Ocampo, Rebecca Pavelko, Anne Tantuico, Evelyn

Wang, Elena Yasin

Janis Brenner: Concept, Choreography, Text, Direction and Performance

Musical Score: Jerome Begin

Creative Consultant: Claire Porter

On-Stage Assistant: Mary Lynn Gonsorcik

Photo by David Rauch

Take Root, a monthly dance series presented at Green Space studio, offers the opportunity for both emerging and seasoned dance makers to expand their body of work. April’s featured artists include Janis Brenner, Paul Ocampo and Evelyn Wang, artists that each weave narrative with movement in compelling ways.

Paul Ocampo and Evelyn Wang, husband and wife as well as Co-Artistic Directors of OcampoWang Dance, present four pieces that share themes of community and relationship. Ocampo and Wang create dances that unfold like a story; each narrative athletic and emotive, propelling audiences on a journey that, while personal, is universally resonant.

In Equanimity, co-choreographed by Ocampo and Wang, dancers Marianna Allen and Judah Marable move through phases of discovery, conflict, and eventually acceptance. Allen and Marable skitter across the stage in child-like wonder with playful gestures conveying the excitement of young love. As their trust deepens, daring lifts and weight share signify growth, but when their movements become aggressive the tension between them is apparent. Allen and Marable separate, performing identical movements at greater distances as they struggle to reconnect. However, even in times of discord, both performers execute robust choreography with grace, illuminating beauty amid strife. When Allen and Marable come together in a final embrace, their bond is reinforced.

Photo by David Rauch

Loss, choreographed by Wang, offers an alternate view into what could be that same relationship. Dancer Elena Yasin and vocalist John Heiserman share proximity but never quite touch. Heiserman’s hands reach for Yasin’s shoulders as she steps away from him and throws herself into a turbulent solo. Her hands strike the air as her body lashes out and recoils. Heiserman slowly lowers his arms, unable to assist. The spatial pull between Yasin and Heiserman outlines their relationship. As Yasin’s movements build in intensity, Heiserman walks the perimeter of the space, ghostlike, enclosing her in an invisible barrier. His voice, a strong resonant tenor, embraces her where his body cannot. The grief of losing a loved one is palpable.

OcampoWang’s only group piece on the program, 7456 Miles Journey, highlights the complex emotions of immigrants through the lens of women and children. Brightly colored scarves shroud the six performers. Recorded text is played in different languages. “I see it, but it is not familiar. I hear it, but I can’t understand it.” First to emerge from their coverings are mother and daughter duo Louiessa Wang Ocampo and Evelyn Wang. As the elder covers the child protectively, her daughter pulls away, tossing her scarf as she seeks her own space. Dancers hold the scarves above their heads as they run. Fast-paced and urgent, the billowing fabric representing both wings carrying them to new places and anchors tying them to their homes. The vibrant textiles both connect and isolate the women, serving as structures of support and concealment. Mundane moments- hanging the cloth on a line like wet laundry and using it as scrubbing rags- illustrate the simple activities that cross cultures. We see ourselves in these women. Erratic gestures suddenly give way to elastic balances and the dancers gather with their scarves outstretched behind them, circling the stage in unison. Hope triumphs and the women find a new home through each other.

Photo by David Rauch

From the opening notes of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Membrane,” Janis Brenner’s solo, She Remembers her Amnesia, promises an adventure. Through spoken word, dance, music, comedy and visual art, Brenner enthrallingly embodies various mental states from disoriented and fragile to joyful and empowered. Similar to OcampoWang Dance, Brenner’s work feels like a journey which brings audiences into her personal experience. Brenner strums a cardboard guitar as she sings about a time in 2017 when she experienced prolonged amnesia while speaking on a panel of artists. As she recounts waking up from her disorientation, she playfully mimics a Talking Heads lyric, “How did I get here?”

No stranger to solo work, Brenner’s long standing career as a dancer, choreographer and vocalist is apparent. A master storyteller and exceptional singer, Brenner carries us with her through feelings of confusion, terror, exhaustion, and finally acceptance. With wit and humor she navigates her way through swirling questions and ambiguous doctor-speak. In a clear strong voice she sings a 1960’s style folk song about EEG’s and MRI’s, the tempo growing faster and more frantic as she struggles to recall detail. Hand gestures morph into larger movement phrases performed to a disco beat. A brilliant aria about all the concussions and head injuries she has suffered throughout her life underscores the severity of these incidents. Although a heavy subject, Brenner injects lightness into her experience. “What is a normal brain anyway?” she asks. In a feeble voice, she sings and talks herself through visible costume changes providing contrast to the powerful singing and dancing she executes on stage. Brenner’s artful transitions between scenes reinforce her disorientation and provide insight into her vulnerability.

She Remembers her Amnesia slowly moves away from accounts of a particular illness to general reflections about the body and mind. Brenner moves upstage to examine an original work of visual art that depicts life as an unfurling mass of color and line, messy but cohesive. She turns to the audience and blurts, “Who are all you people?” a question that epitomizes both her experience with amnesia and her life as an artist.

By “people,” Brenner may be asking who the audience is, or who are the people she has encountered throughout her career. Either way, audiences are inspired to reflect on their own experiences as they relate to her story. For both Brenner and OcampoWang, the stories they share are gifts.

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Janis Brenner
Janis Brenner
Sep 26, 2023

Dear Cecly, I somehow just came across your review of "She Remembers her Amnesia", from this past April at Green Space in Queens. I wish someone had lead me to it last Spring! I want to say Thank You for such a thoughtful, perceptive and beautifully-written critique. It was much appreciated. Best of wishes, Janis Brenner (*I do the full version -the Green Space version was slightly condensed- this season at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park, Oct. 23rd. So the journey continues...)

Cecly Placenti
Cecly Placenti
Sep 27, 2023
Replying to

Hi Janis! I am so glad you came across this piece and enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the performance and was so inspired by the way you are able to weave together theatrical elements in such a seamless way. Also your ability to infuse your work with humor even when it is about a serious subject. I'd love to come see the full version- I will keep that on my radar! Hope our paths cross again soon. Thank you so much for reaching out. Sometimes as a writer, and as a choreographer for sure, you don't always know how your work lands for others, so I really appreciate you taking the time to contact me.

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