In Rockaway, Dance for the sea, the sky, the sand and the birds

“The beach is a bad mood place, you know? ” choreographer Moriah Evans noted. Rockaway Beach, stretched out under a wispy cloudy sky,...


“The beach is a bad mood place, you know? ” choreographer Moriah Evans noted.

Rockaway Beach, stretched out under a wispy cloudy sky, was certainly in the mood last Friday as the waves rose higher and higher and the cries of the seagulls were interrupted by the alarming beeps of a weather alert. “Whoa, what is this?” Evans asked before muttering under his breath, “Get out now.”

A storm was brewing, but Evans was only slightly agitated. It’s like that. The ocean is the backdrop to his latest, unique work. It gives a serious whirlwind to spontaneity.

In the aptly named ‘Repose’, 21 dancers will move from Beach 86th to Beach 110th Streets on Sunday starting at 1:00 PM. Performing several movement scores drawn from daily actions and responses to nature at the beach, the dancers will cycle through 1.4 miles on the course. six o’clock. Evans would agree that this is unusual for her: “I’m not an outdoor performance enthusiast,” she said.

And in order to be successful, she realized that she couldn’t rely on anything, from the weather to beach goers. “If it’s cold and rainy, the relationship with the audience will be totally different,” she said. “But conceptually, for me, we don’t do this to be seen. I say this as a kind of wish for the job: in fact, we do it for the waves, for the horizon, for the sky, for the sand, for the passing birds.

Throughout August Evans rehearsed with his stellar, multigenerational cast, but never with more than two dancers at the same time. The process is “very go and do,” she said, as will the performance. “It’s not like I’m repeating it over and over again. I’m also excited because I don’t know what this piece is really going to be. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know what’s going to happen!

It’s all for the best. Don’t you fancy something fresh? It won’t be another one of those mixed lists of dancers showing how happy they are to dance again. “Rest”, commissioned by Sasha Okshteyn for her Beach Sessions Dance Series, is not just other site specific work. It’s a vital, visceral response to our present moment that examines ways the body – whether dancing, moving, or at rest – can energize an outdoor space. And outdoor spaces are all the more important during the pandemic.

Okshteyn said after a year and a half she wanted to produce something “a little more investigative, it’s not like in your face dancing, but it’s more meditative and accessible.

The community aspect of the beach is also part of it. “I’ll be interested to see how accessible it is,” Okshteyn said. “It’s called ‘Rest’ – she looks at the quiet positions of the bathers, so it’s very accessible because it’s kind of a pedestrian movement – but it will be interesting to see what people think of it. Is it too abstract? “

Evans’ work – internal and in-depth, with movement emanating from the depths of the body – has a rawness that is integrated into nature. It also has a manner of being both solemn and lush. For Evans, the beach is a theater of flesh. Her method of framing and amplifying daily actions is emotional, joyful, down to earth and even humorous. “Rest” is to give in to feelings and the elements; in doing so, Evans takes the dance to a different place.

Its magnetic cast – full of downtown dancing stars – is an important part of the trip and includes Iréne Hultman, Marc Crousillat, Shayla-Vie Jenkins, Niall Jones, Jess Pretty and Antonio Ramos. What Hultman, choreographer and former member of the Trisha Brown Dance Company, values ​​most about Evans’ work is that she goes into the unknown. “I can’t wait to be between land and water and then to look,” she said, “and to be almost like a herd of animals. “

Evans’ evolutionary movement scores feature a “mirror” or copy of the actions of people on the beach; and “rock roll crawl position,” in which performers crawl like an insect or an animal; become as lifeless as a stone; and roll in the ocean as taut as a log or as stretched and supple as a highly skilled dancer.

The “rock” moment of “crawl rock roll” – each component can be separated to make up its own score – is one of those actions that sometimes causes a park department employee to stop and ask if everything is okay. It has a lifeless quality and sometimes the appearance of a child’s pose in yoga, with the arms pinned to the sides. It takes place in the sand.

During a rehearsal, Evans explained to the dancer Daria Faïn that she was seeking confinement – to think of a contraction.

“Like Martha in the New Age,” she said enthusiastically, referring to Martha Graham, whose deep pelvic contractions were the hallmark of her dances. “Like a contraction in inanimate matter!”

For another score, the actors have the opportunity to play something very personal. During that same rehearsal, Evans asked Fain, “Do you have a beach dance fantasy? His first wish was to be able to swim in the sea – really far. Alas, the Rockaway rescuers don’t do that sort of thing.

Fain stopped while putting wet sand on his legs. “I would like to be buried,” she said. “It’s a huge fantasy.”

Sorted. As for others? Anh Vo will cry by the ocean. Alex Rodabaugh will perform cartwheels in the water. This fantastic score was inspired by Evans’ original idea for the work: “It was to have 100 naked bodies on the beach, much like sea lions hang out on the cove,” he said. she declared. “Just to be in a state of rest.”

It gives you a window into his nimble imagination. “It did not happen,” she added. “So now this has passed.”

During rehearsals, the bathers stared and sometimes laughed. Many walked away, but a few asked what was going on. Evans would tell them, “I just reframe your actions as a dance” or talk about how they get involved in “the dance of the everyday”. She tells her performers – if questioned – to make eye contact and to be open. “Like spreading joy,” Evans said. “But don’t get distracted and start with what you’re doing, why are you doing it and talking about art or not art?” Let people have this conversation. It is not our job.

But for the performance itself, the dancers won’t blend in with the seascape as easily – they’ll be wearing green swimwear in the same Pantone shade (PMS 368) as those working in the parks department. The costumes are credited to the Office for the Future of Choreography and Amber Evans (Moriah’s sister), and they pop. Eric Peterson, Rockaway Parks Administrator, appreciates the tribute.

“It’s picking up the elements, the flavors of the beach and the parks department – of what we do,” Peterson said. “And he takes those elements back without spoofing – they don’t dance in staff uniforms, they incorporate elements of the color scheme.”

All the while, Evans is aware of the beach’s invisible choreography. When the lifeguards whistle at 6 p.m. to leave, it’s the signal for everyone to get out of the water. It’s also when the seagulls know it’s time to scavenge. During this final hour – because lifeguards are no longer on duty, amplified sound is allowed – musician and composer David Watson will present a sunset sound score with live performances as well as audio and field recordings. pre-recorded.

When Evans thinks of “Rest,” she views everything – nature, park workers, and beach behavior with its small groups and configurations – as one horizontal mass. “What is the theater for?” she said. “Sometimes I think it’s just a framework to hold people together in an experience. And in this way, I find that the beach also does this: we are in a common framework.

Appropriately, audience members are encouraged to follow the performers as they progress or even create their own movement experiences. Evans created a comic strip that shows 16 actions for “Rest”. There are instructions for small events, like, “Lie on the shore, relax in one position, stay there until the waves crash, and move your body to a new position.”

There’s a reason the comic, with illustrations by Jeffrey Lewis, ends with a line that reads: “A performance by Moriah Evans and you and them and us and many people for Beach Seasons 2021. It’s inclusive because for Evans, art is made by people as well as artists.

“People who attend a show make the show happen or contribute to what it is,” she said. “I think that will inevitably happen in a public space like this. And you really can’t control the conditions. We cannot control the weather or the lights or the behavior of the public in relation to it. Letting go of control in this way is a good thing.

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