Review: Choreographic Skeletons from a Lost Pandemic Period

Across seven lanes of an empty Lower East Side pool, dancers, 24 in all, swam through the movement. Some have forged themselves into du...


Across seven lanes of an empty Lower East Side pool, dancers, 24 in all, swam through the movement. Some have forged themselves into duets and trios, while others have gotten lost in solitary space. It was a cacophony of bodies performing disparate choreographies, but the bigger picture revealed collective harmony. You observed their physical forms – twisting, contracting, arms reaching unknown points – but what you felt was the deep internal awareness of their mind. It was hypnotic.

In “Review”, the artist and choreographer Madeline Holland brought together New York dancers, big and small companies, and Broadway shows, and gave them a task: to perform a choreography that was canceled or postponed during the pandemic. But in her exploration of months (and months) of undone culture, she envisioned a different kind of dance experience. The “revision” is carried out through the act of marking.

Marking – going through the movements of a dance without performing fully – is a marvel of the mechanics of movement. The hands can imitate the feet; there is the curved path that a dancer goes through leaving the jumps or lightly jumping through them. In “Review,” Hollander takes that private, manless language that all dancers practice and turns it into a performance.

Played Thursday at Hamilton Fish Pool as part of the Performa Biennial, “Review” featured a scene full of such choreographic skeletons. It’s like a garment first made from muslin before a designer removes the silk. While the work reduced the dances to their essence, the dancers brought something else to the stage: themselves.

The audience, separated by the width of the pool and facing each other in a track formation, gazed a few meters above the submerged space. Rows of lights lined the sides. Near the start of “Review,” which took place in three sections, the dancers stood behind the lights which, when all lit, filled the pool with radiant light. Members of the Ensemble of the First Nationwide Tour of “Fiddler on the Roof” shared the stage with, among others, choreographer Jodi Melnick; Huiwang Zhang of the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company; Martha Graham dancers; and Olivia Boisson, Miriam Miller and Megan LeCrone of the New York City Ballet.

As the dancers deftly plotted their paths, the scene was from another world, as if a box of pencils had come to life. Dressed in Anna-Sophie Berger costumes, the groups and individuals were demarcated by color – royal blue for the New York City Ballet, bright yellow for the Graham dancers, green for the jovial actors of “Fiddler”. When dancers finished a variation or part of a work, they would bow, return to their light, and turn it off until all performances in that section were completed.

In the first two acts, it could be difficult to discern the degree of notation – some dancers seemed to play harder than others. It would also have helped to be able to watch “Review” from a greater distance and height to better distinguish the patterns. (Next time, a career!) But the point was clear: by bringing together so many different dancers and productions on one stage, Hollander showed what has been lost after being swept away this time around. In the third section, there was something else at stake: the dancers, vulnerable and tired – it was a busy night – took over the spirit of their dances.

Starting soft and contained, they danced with their hands, floating and diving, which showed us not only the patterns of their choreography, but something of its rhythmic composition. Even though “Review” was set to an electronic score by composer Celia Hollander (the choreographer’s sister), the performers seemed to have different music – even silence – in their heads.

As they progressed their gestures got bigger, taking more space and more effort until, in the end, many were as close to dancing as possible. Moments of classical works emerged, briefly and thrilling, like George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco” and Graham’s “Chronicle”, but it was equally essential to see the branding effect in today’s choreographic investigations. ‘hui. Melnick’s dance language, which springs from her limbs with complex changes of speed and effort, runs that fine line between fully formed and halfway. It’s part of its incandescence.

Hollander’s rendering of the lost season is something she considers, as she writes in the program notes, “a live choreographic ready-made” for the way it draws on existing works. But when this choreography is presented all at once, it is also a ritual tribute. “Review” is both a reflection and a choreographic illustration of the here and now, a time when going through the movements of life is more mysterious than what can appear on the surface. It is also a dance.

Review

Performed twice Thursday night at the Hamilton Fish Pool in Manhattan as part of the Performa Biennial.

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