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Robert Abrams
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Merce Cunningham Dance Company & Studios
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York Dance Works - Present time distant

by Robert Abrams
November 7, 2009
Merce Cunningham Dance Company & Studios
55 Bethune Street
New York, NY 10014
Performance reviewed: Friday, November 6, 2009 at 9 pm.
(Temporary note intended to show up on the home page: If you are reading this on November 7 or 8, 2009 and are in NYC, go to the last four paragraphs of this review, and then get to the Merce Cunningham Dance Studios to see the show.)

Sometimes dance seems to be in thrall to finding an ever closer approximation of the Platonic ideal of a geometric abstraction. I happen to like the purity of geometry, and I often enjoy geometric expressions in dance (and wish I knew enough math to express the four dimensional equations that would be needed to precisely describe the shapes the movements create).

But sometimes, as important as abstractions are, abstractions are not enough in art – especially in dance and its allied dramatic arts. Here I am not primarily referring to the endless swings of the pendulum of taste, from narrative dance to abstract dance and back again. To me, the one fundamental that is left in dance after everything unnecessary has been stripped away is the people who dance it. However, people can not survive without their social context. Even a long term, contented hermit had to have had parents at one point.

To understand that context, and thereby improve our understanding of dance, sometimes we need to ask "What is the opposite of dance?" This isn't the first time I have asked the question. It seems to me that our context, at this moment, is defined by two events: at Fort Hood an Army Major serving as a psychiatrist allegedly shot to death a large number of people before being brought down by a fearless police woman, and in England an automobile accident left one woman dead and the other sent to jail, allegedly because the second woman was texting while driving (and, for what ever reason, the road on which the first woman's car broke down did not have a shoulder, although no one has been called to account for that potential oversight). In the face of such events, it could legitimately be asked "Why are we dancing?"

There are possible responses, but never any definitive answers. Except to say that some things are elemental components of human life. Injury and death seem to be elemental to human life. To me, dance is also elemental to human life. The important thing, when contemplating dancing, is to remember that there are always questions and that these questions always have to be asked.

And now we pass through a discontinuity to consider the limited context of the Merce Cunningham Dance Studios and the performance by York Dance Works.

Two elements of this context are important to keep in mind. First, I was at this performance because the timing happened to coincide with a breather in the chaos that is my life right now (and I knew I had child care lined up, which isn't a small issue these days for going out at night and reviewing shows). Plus, the PR person went above and beyond in her efforts to convince me to attend (I get more review requests than I can count), and she seemed open to discussing the realities of how to provide coverage to every dance company who deserves coverage (that would be pretty much all of them) without going broke (which brings into play some potential conflicts of interest, but I will leave discussion of that for some other day). Second, the theater was very warm, even though outside it was cold, Fall weather. I don't do so well in warm, humid environments, so this might have potentially biased me against the performance.

Here is the short version of the review, in case you want to stop reading now and get to the Merce Cunningham Dance Studios tonight in time to catch the show. "Present time distant", the last work in the show, felt like jazz age Brownian motion that then crystallizes. If Lucy York Struever, the choreographer, took "Present time distant" into competition, she would have a fair shot at winning. There are positive elements in the other works presented and some variety between them too, but "Present time distant" is good enough to be worth the price of admission by itself.

York Dance Works is performing at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studios tonight, Saturday November 7, 2009 at 8 pm and tomorrow, Sunday November 8, 2009 at 7 pm.
(www.yorkdanceworks.com and www.merce.org for more information)
York Dance Works is a very young dance company, but they are worth a look. Go, get tickets, now. You can look up what Brownian motion means later.

I have to go take care of my daughter. I will post the rest of my review later.

Seriously, what are you still doing here? I am not making this up. I will get to the flaws in the show later, so you can rest assured the full review will be a fully honest and balanced review, but even with the flaws the show is still worth seeing. Plus, the Saturday and Sunday performances will include an additional work that was not presented on Friday, so someone has to see it and report back.
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