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A.W.A.R.D. Show! finals

by Ilona Wall
May 24, 2007
Joyce Soho
155 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012
212-431-9233
Freedom in all its Glory
The A.W.A.R.D. Show! finals at Joyce Soho on Sunday May 20 were a pleasure from start to finish. Conceived by Neta Pulvermacher, the series was intended to "Create a forum as an artist where we honor each other's work. It is an opportunity for people to go further with whatever they're working on," she said before the final performance. It is a noble goal both in theory and in practice, and the Joyce bristled with anticipation for the performance and the declaration of the winner. With five monthly shows in total, the first four each presented four different works with no specifications made about the genre of the pieces. Thus, the contestants included various types of dance from tap to jazz to post-modern dance to ballet. Every performance included a discussion where the audience could frankly converse about the works with the artists, and then a winner was chosen. The final performance consisted of the four winners from the previous shows performing in one program. These pieces were then voted on by a panel of "professional colleagues" including artists, administrators, educators and the like, to determine the winner. More than the final prize, the discussion after each performance is the essence of the series, and I believe it to be the most innovative and provocative concept involved. It is so rare that audiences have the opportunity to openly explore what they have seen and to process a work with its creators. This interaction, in addition to simply viewing dance, is the best way to educate audiences.

All four works throughout the evening had an air of eager ambition about them. Each short piece, whether charming, humorous, or intense, was performed with refreshing dedication to the work. Like a struggling baseball team fighting for each game in the hopes of turning a long dull season around, the dancers fought to captivate audiences and the results were respectable indeed. The final performance started on a light note with Anime Dance Theatre's "Romeo the Thief and Juliet the Guard" choreographed by Kiyoko Kashiwagi. Using sections of the Prokofiev Suite from Romeo and Juliet, Ms. Kashiwagi and Vincent McCloskey cleverly took us from the heist of the Mona Lisa by a veiled Romeo to the passionate Juliet shedding her police guard uniform to seduce him. Juliet's opening jazzy patrol of the painting retreated as Romeo humorously scaled the wall in pursuit of his Rosalind, the Mona Lisa. When Juliet caught him and forced off his mask, love was in the air. Cue the Balcony scene music. Kashiwagi was clever enough to refer to both Shakespeare's lines and Ashton's trademark choreography complete with abandoned running, lifts, and the use of dance sneakers as pointe shoes for balances. In the end, of course, Romeo and the painting got away, and Juliet was left too love-struck to notice. The piece was charming and convincingly, if not dazzlingly performed.

The mood changed significantly as Kate Weare's "Drop Down" followed on the program. Adeptly performed by Adrian Clark and Leslie Kraus, the piece highlighted the intensity and violence of intimate interactions. The two dancers remained incredibly close together throughout most of the piece pivoting around a central point, resisting each other in tense moments, and eloquently counter-balancing one another in moments of slow resistance. The music changed continually with moments of what simply seemed like recorded breathing. At the central section of the piece Clark slowly lowered himself onto Leslie's body and the two laid on the floor in silence. After only a few seconds in what might normally seem like a tender position, the two began to wrestle again, manipulating each other's bodies in crisp, forceful actions, and then pushing against each other in moments of stillness. This sequence of floor-work was repeated from another angle, still in silence as the sexual intensity grew. When this ended, Clark rose and thrashed about. At first Kraus watched his dance of desperation. Then she quietly turned away. In the final moments of the piece, she came to him slowly, and grabbed him around the hips so they could move together again. I must admit that I would have loved the opportunity to discuss "Drop Down" with Weare. With subject matter so implicit in the movement, I would wonder whether I invented the narrative were the emotional intensity not so undeniable.

The mood of the evening lightened once more with Jenny MaryTai Liu and Hannah Heller's "Home Birth." Using a very fake-looking pregnant woman, a very 1950's nurse, and a lot of dialogue with very English accents, "Home Birth" provided a fascinating deconstruction of audience expectation. The piece self-consciously brought into questions so many of the assumptions that we unknowingly make as spectators. After reading the program, and seeing the title "Home Birth," it was natural to expect to see a woman giving birth with her nurse there to help. Thus, the audience had unknowingly assumed a relationship between the women, the subject matter of the piece, and had already made certain assumptions about the nature of the piece because it is a "dance piece." When the first sequence ended and the dialogue began, new layers of our assumptions were slowly peeled away. As the piece unfolded, we heard quite a bit of dialogue, and inadvertently came to realize that these two women were partners, no one was giving birth quite yet (the title was more accurately "Home Berth"), and that dialogue was very much a part of this dance piece. Liu and Heller created a piece reminiscent of a film by Quentin Tarantino or Guy Richie. Time stopped as the dancers froze simultaneously, dialogue overlapped completely unrelated movements, there were random moments of unison (i.e. leg scratching, and abstract hand gestures), and floor patterns or ways of moving carved out the space as the dancers followed one another down the hall and up the stairs. Although much of the circumstance surrounding these characters was communicated through dialogue, "Home Birth" was an entertaining exploration of the boundaries between theatre and dance. This is a direction that American dance is only just learning to move towards and it is a fascinating direction indeed.

The final piece of the evening, and the only group piece, was excerpts from Nelly van Bommel's "Pax Aeterna" performed by NØA Dance. Of all the pieces on the program, "Pax Aeterna" provided some of the highest quality dancing on Sunday evening. The dancers poured themselves into the movement with the very freedom that seemed particularly appropriate for the A.W.A.R.D. Show! With dewy young dancers in flowing white, and lush Vivaldi and Handel arias, the seven dancers performed with freshness, and determination. A duet led into a quartet, where the movement was sweeping and powerful. The unison, floor patterns, and canons were all classical, and the modern dance choreography was nothing profoundly innovative, but full of surprising and expressive moments. Unfortunately, the final group section was too reminiscent of a drugged teenage orgy to take seriously as the dancers swayed gently from side to side, embraced one another, and moved as if sedated. It was a sorry thing to see such a promising start end in such an anticlimactic manner.

After the performance the audience was invited to sip some wine and enjoy some cheese while the votes were tallied. In the true spirit of the free event, small statues of liberty in colorful polka dot tutus were given to the evening's participants representing "artistic freedom in dance," declared Neta before the performance. This led us to the final extraordinary aspect of the A.W.A.R.D. Show! series, namely, the award. The series was able to provide the first runner-ups from each of the first four performances with a $1,000 un-restricted production and creation grant. The grand prize for winning the entire competition is a $10,000 grant. As one could see, the performers had a little more than pride riding on the evening's performance. And in the end, it would have been a pleasure to see any of these groups walk away with that sort of financial breathing room. In this celebration of artistic freedom, and judging the works on "potential, originality, execution and merit," the panel decided on one of the more traditional applicants after all. In the end, Kate Weare's company walked away the winner. Though the decision seems a safe one, it is always lovely to see a sophisticated use of art appreciated so deeply. Even nicer to see is a project driven by the desire to help make that happen.
The A.W.A.R.D. Show Anime Dance Theatre

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
Anime Dance Theatre

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show Anime Dance Theatre

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
Anime Dance Theatre

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show Anime Dance Theatre

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
Anime Dance Theatre

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show Kate Weare

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
Kate Weare

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show Kate Weare

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
Kate Weare

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show Kate Weare

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
Kate Weare

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show Kate Weare

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
Kate Weare

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show Kate Weare

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
Kate Weare

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show Kate Weare

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
Kate Weare

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show 'Home Birth'

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
"Home Birth"

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show 'Home Birth'

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
"Home Birth"

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show 'Home Birth'

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
"Home Birth"

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show 'Home Birth'

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
"Home Birth"

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show 'Home Birth'

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
"Home Birth"

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show 'Home Birth'

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
"Home Birth"

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show 'Home Birth'

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
"Home Birth"

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show NOA Dance Theatre

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
NOA Dance Theatre

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


The A.W.A.R.D. Show NOA Dance Theatre

The A.W.A.R.D. Show
NOA Dance Theatre

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa

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