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Women/Create, a Shared Program of Rising Stars and Visionaries

by Bonnie Rosenstock
June 26, 2019
New York Live Arts
219 W 19th Street
New York, NY 10011
(212) 691-6500
The eighth annual Women/Create – A Festival of Dance (June 11-16), conceived and curated by Jennifer Muller/The Works (JMTW), brought together seven prominent female choreographers in a shared program on June 15 at New York Live Arts. This year’s line-up included Armitage Gone! Dance; Buglisi Dance Theatre; Carolyn Dorfman Dance; The Francesca Harper Project; Jennifer Muller/The Works; Katarzyna Skarpetowska (featuring Richmond Ballet, The State Ballet of Virginia); and Helen Simoneau Danse. Said Muller during the audience introduction to the program, “It’s from rising stars all the way to visionaries.”

Muller explained that this series is not a festival but a concert of shared programs and is “very unusual to have companies actually decide to share an evening together.” She also noted that dance can speak and heal the world. “It can reach everybody whether they speak your language or not,” she said. “Many of us have gone all around the world, and we speak with our bodies and people understand.”

The program varied for each performance, so these are the four works that I saw at the Saturday, June 15 matinee.

Skarpetowska’s “Akwarium” (New York premiere), originally commissioned for the Richmond Ballet (World Premiere, May 2018), is a work for 12 dancers, six men and six women from the ballet company, garbed in shades of blue and aqua, and featured 12 fluorescent light bars hanging against the upstage scrim and a cool aquatic lighting design to evoke the atmosphere of an underwater environmental sensory-scape. The music by Robert Henke and J.S. Bach completed the overall ambiance. The versatile women performed in ballet shoes en pointe and also got down into the contemporary. There were wonderful pairings of trios and duets as well as finely tuned ensemble work. The dancers kept changing partners while crossing the stage to exit and enter. They also entered from different sides or entered together and left separately. It was an ever-changing flow of bodies and moods.

Muller’s “The Theory of Color” (World Premiere) is also a sensory experience, a feast of dance, spoken word and illuminated stage saturating the space in intense color for each of the five sections: Red, Blue, Purple, Green and Yellow. Muller’s intelligent text investigated the unique qualities of each color and how we associate them, each voiced by different people, including Muller. It was accompanied by the healing spiritual compositions of cellists Matthew Schoening and Rufus Cappadocia. Sonja Chung, a featured soloist in Red, is a force to be reckoned with, her long-limbed, knowing physical presence dominating each section she was in. In Red, she also paired with the petite powerhouse, Seiko Fujita, Red being the color of rage, longing, sadness and much stamping. In Blue, the remarkable Shiho Tanaka formed an exquisite trio with two male dancers, in which she was the object of intricate lifting, soaring and flight. Purple had two pairs, Chung with Isaac Kerr and Andy Jacobs with Elise King, who created touching, passionate connections. Green was a quintet in which the three men lifted the two women in fine patterns. Plexiglas cubes mysteriously appeared onstage in different locations according to the number of dancers in each sequence, except for Yellow, which had eight dancers and six cubes. A dynamic, riveting work.

Francesca Harper said to the audience that her deeply personal dance-theater work “Unapologetic Body” (Excerpt from a Work in Progress) is research into herself and her experience as an African-American, “all the ways I find myself apologizing or acquiescing or making people feel that I’m not a threat.” It delves into identity, loss and rebirth, and how her childhood and past experiences affect her own ability to love, drawing on her experiences living in a predominately white world, the world of ballet, as a foreigner living in Europe, and on Broadway, while facing her own personal heartbreaks and triumphs. The piece was choreographed by Harper, 50, in collaboration with Eriko Iisaku and Josh Johnson, with sound design and vocals by the inimitable Nona Hendryx and collaborators and performed by Harper and Gregory Hamilton. Harper makes use of technology with lit boxes, videography, a long rope of light, which borders the stage and which she picks up to untangle, and a tech console controlled by Tuce Yasak. She said, “As a person looking and examining the future, it’s really fun to look at technology, but also realize not to lose the human element and what’s personal to us as human beings.” There’s also a mirror, which reflects back to the audience, two chairs for the pair to sit on and move to various locations, a long table, which gets upended downstage for her to hide behind and a circle of light, which she lies in. In between there is dance connection and disconnection. It is slated to premiere as an evening-length work next year. Watch for it.

“Moonlight Parade” (2015), choreographed by Quebec native Simoneau, is an unexceptional piece that had the five dancers separating and intermingling, doing bouncy slides, slouched torso/head down movements, some fine turns and lying on the floor. Frankie Peterson, the lone man in the troupe, is tall and lithe, but seemed out of place with the four women.
Jennifer Muller/The Works dancers Seiko Fujita (Front) and Sonja Chung in Muller’s “The Theory of Color”.

Jennifer Muller/The Works dancers Seiko Fujita (Front) and Sonja Chung in Muller’s “The Theory of Color”.

Photo © & courtesy of Stephen Pisano


Jennifer Muller/The Works Seiko Fujita (Center)and dancers in Muller’s “The Theory of Color”.

Jennifer Muller/The Works Seiko Fujita (Center)and dancers in Muller’s “The Theory of Color”.

Photo © & courtesy of Stephen Pisano


Richmond Ballet in Kate Skarpetowska’s “Akwarium”.

Richmond Ballet in Kate Skarpetowska’s “Akwarium”.

Photo © & courtesy of Stephen Pisano


Richmond Ballet in Kate Skarpetowska’s “Akwarium”.

Richmond Ballet in Kate Skarpetowska’s “Akwarium”.

Photo © & courtesy of Stephen Pisano


Francesca Harper's “Unapologetic Body” (Excerpt from a Work in Progress).

Francesca Harper's “Unapologetic Body” (Excerpt from a Work in Progress).

Photo © & courtesy of Stephen Pisano


Francesca Harper's “Unapologetic Body” (Excerpt from a Work in Progress).

Francesca Harper's “Unapologetic Body” (Excerpt from a Work in Progress).

Photo © & courtesy of Stephen Pisano


Helen Simoneau Danse in Simoneau's “Moonlight Parade” (2015).

Helen Simoneau Danse in Simoneau's “Moonlight Parade” (2015).

Photo © & courtesy of Stephen Pisano


Helen Simoneau Danse in Simoneau's “Moonlight Parade” (2015).

Helen Simoneau Danse in Simoneau's “Moonlight Parade” (2015).

Photo © & courtesy of Stephen Pisano

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