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Dancing in a Time of Pandemic: Conversations with Samantha Geracht, David Parker and Kathryn Posin

by Bonnie Rosenstock
June 13, 2020
New York, NY
These days, live dance performances can only be dreamed about. But that doesn’t prevent dancemakers from creating wherever and whenever possible, using whatever means available, especially new technologies. ExploreDance.com reached out to several small independent companies via email to find out how they are making dance within the new realities.

Kathryn Posin founded The Kathryn Posin Dance Company in 1973. Her choreography creates the musical and sculptural fusing of ballet and modern dance. For the 2019/2020 season, Posin received an NEA Arts Works Grant, through which she premiered three new works at the 92nd Street Y in September 2019. She is currently applying to the organization for a new project.

To keep fit, Posin, 77, does a daily workout at her loft on Bond Street in NoHo (North of Houston Street) and also watches the Black Lives Matter protests from her windows facing Lafayette Street.

The Kathryn Posin Dance Company has been invited to perform their new work "Triple Sextet" to Steve Reich's "Double Sextet" in the Battery Park Dance Festival this August. All of the six dancers but one, who is in Korea, are available. “One pair of dancers lives together and so can probably partner each other,” she noted. “This will be a great adventure in problem solving. There probably will be a small VIP audience, and it will be streamed live. Battery Dance is working with city administrators on the terms.”

Posin recently finished teaching her World Dance course online for the Gallatin School of New York University and sent me a two-minute video about it:Click here to view.

She started going to the digital studio the week before NYU’s spring break, so as not to be scared of Zoom, and did a lot of test runs with the tech people. “I learned right away to use Gallery and Speaker View,” she said. “I said to the students to do what we do to make us feel better. I think my message is to go to the human body. This is an opportunity for growth.”

NYU is working with professors to know if they will teach remotely or live this fall. “I hope to teach my choreography class live, but with accommodations,” she said.

David Parker is the co-founder and co-director with Jeffrey Kazin, of The Bang Group, a rhythm-driven theatrical dance company which incorporates contemporary and percussive forms. The two are also co-directors of Dance Programming at The Flea on Thomas Street near Manhattan’s Financial District, very Off-Off-Broadway.

Parker is sheltering in place in his West Village apartment catching up on reading, talking and “reflecting about systemic racism in this country and its manifestation within myself,” he said. “I'm also continuing to rehabilitate my new knee, which was installed 14 months ago. This involves a great deal of dancing, exercise, self-administered physical therapy and experimentation.”

Parker is also building a new dance, which combines Merce Cunningham's Fifty Looks and tap dancing. He noted that Fifty Looks is available to learn online via the Merce Cunningham Foundation. “It consists mainly of upper body movements performed in a limited amount of space, making it both a perfect project for lockdown and a fine candidate for incorporating footwork,” he said. “In this way, I can remain creative and continue my passion for creating a negotiated harmony of disparate forms within the same, in this case my own, body.”

In learning Fifty Looks, he was intrigued by Cunningham’s use of chance procedures to determine the order of the body positions or "looks." As a result, he’s developing a way of using chance to create a group work with The Bang Group via Zoom using material the dancers already know but rearranged and combined according to chance procedures. “For the work, which is based in rhythmic relationships, Zoom's sound delay makes it impossible to rehearse contrapuntally in any kind of reliable or accurate time relationship, but I'm working to incorporate that bug into the structure,” he said. “This is, to my knowledge, the first use of chance to create a percussive dance. I ordered the dice online.”

He added, “While the availability of online content is a balm for the soul, at this time it has only confirmed my ardor for live performance. Creating every day with the dancers, whom I truly regard as a kind of family, is what I miss most of all and there is simply no adequate substitute for it. We maintain contact through twice-weekly happy hours via Zoom, but I yearn for a return to the studio. Jeff and I have tentatively begun this past week to work together.”

Like everyone else in the live arts, they’ve lost all their work through the summer, but he and Kazin are working to keep the dancers on payroll with the hope of some kind of return in 2021. “Most of the commissions, festivals and residencies we had planned have been postponed rather than cancelled outright,” he said. “I was greatly looking forward to a new collaboration with composer Viola Yip for [Brooklyn’s] The Look and Listen Festival, which will happen as soon as it can, and a revival and tour of my ShowDown. This work for eight dancers, originally commissioned by DANCE NOW NYC in 2008, is a rumination on the themes of Annie Get Your Gun danced to the Judy Garland recording of the score for the MGM film, which ended up being made with Betty Hutton.”

Parker, who turned 61 in April, declared, “I'm raring to strut and fret my own hour upon the stage with my new knee, which is working very nicely these days.”

After performing with Anna Sokolow’s Players’ Project for eleven years, and as a founding member of Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble, Samantha Geracht was appointed artistic director of the Ensemble in January 2017.

Geracht, who lives in Jersey City, NJ, hasn’t let the pandemic deter her from all-consuming multi-tasking. For the first few weeks of quarantine she was also working on her MFA thesis, followed by rehearsing, teaching, planning for fall remote teaching and general administrative work. “My two associate directors and I are also completely immersed in the virtual work we are doing,” she said. “The dancers are putting in long hours. It is important for the company to stay connected and to keep working so we have some artistic content in our daily lives.”

Also, “I try to walk every day just to get away from my screen.”

The ST/DE was founded in 2004 to serve as the artistic repository of dance trailblazer Anna Sokolow’s legacy and to reconstruct, perform, teach and coach her repertory on other professional companies and make her work accessible to dance students. Atypically, the multi-generational ensemble range in age from 25 to over 60.

Said Geracht, “I jumped into the deep end of the Zoom pool, creatively. In addition to the virtual production of Rooms, we made a Zoom recording of Sokolow's "The Unanswered Question" with dancers from across the country and around the globe. As long as this is the ‘new normal’ for a while, I want to figure out how to keep going rather than put the company on hold. Financially, things are strained. We cancelled all of our fundraisers for the spring. Worrying about that takes time and energy, too.”

The critically acclaimed groundbreaking "Rooms" (1955) is one of Sokolow’s signature pieces. It examines the psychic isolation and unfulfilled desires of characters in their small city apartments following the breakdown of wartime solidarity, when the threat of atomic annihilation, the 1952 polio epidemic and the Red Scare (Communism) created an atmosphere of uncertainty and dread. The digital "Rooms2020" resonates in today’s pandemic.

“At the moment we are building a virtual gallery of line drawings that were made during our studio rehearsals of Rooms. I am also spending time teaching company class, workshops for Kanopy Dance in Madison, WI and setting up remote teaching of Rooms at various universities for the fall. I am hoping to create a virtual event that will bring together all of the colleges who will be working on Rooms.”

In the political and cultural turmoil of the 1930s, Sokolow (1910-2000) participated in the “radical dance” movement, combining theater and dance to illuminate universal truths about the human condition. “We always say that Sokolow is timeless and relevant,” said Geracht. “We are grateful to have her voice in these crazy times.”

Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble will premiere a virtual performance video of Rooms2020 on Thursday, June 25 at 7 p.m., available at sokolowtheatredance.org.
l-r: Jeffrey Kazin, David Parker and Amber Sloan in The Bang Group's 'Nut/Cracked'. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

l-r: Jeffrey Kazin, David Parker and Amber Sloan in The Bang Group's "Nut/Cracked". Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

Photo © & courtesy of Yi-Chun Wu

Kathryn Posin

Kathryn Posin

Photo © & courtesy of Nan Melville

ROOMS - Daydream, pictured Margherita Tisato, Sierra Powell, Ilana Ruth Cohen.

ROOMS - Daydream, pictured Margherita Tisato, Sierra Powell, Ilana Ruth Cohen.

Photo © & courtesy of Sam Waxman

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