Review: dancing bodies that contain multitudes

Can choreographers – or anyone, really – ever create something entirely new? Entirely to them? With her series “I Am Also”, dancer and...


Can choreographers – or anyone, really – ever create something entirely new? Entirely to them? With her series “I Am Also”, dancer and choreographer Molly Poerstel reminds us that every artist is a constellation of influences, a messy mix of other people and past experiences. In dance, this entanglement is above all intimate, deeply rooted in the body. As Poerstel writes of his latest work, “I am too – Monte“, Referring to the many choreographers with whom she has danced:” Their work exists in my body, therefore, this work is an extension of their mind and body. “

The series examines how a dancer’s past permeates the present and, inevitably, the work of collaborators. When a choreographer, for example, does a solo for a dancer, what they create together could be seen as their respective stories, multiplied. Through this lens, what may appear to be a simple form – the solo – becomes exponentially more complex.

Whose job is it? Where does the choreographer end and where does the dancer begin? How did their identities and interpersonal relationships – in the case of “Monte”, as a white woman and a black man (Monte Jones) who were friends for 25 years – further complicate this relationship?

These questions came to my mind as I watched “Monte” premiered Wednesday at the Abrons Arts Center. The approximately 45-minute show stars the fascinating and candid Jones, an improviser and house dancer who first met Poerstel when they were fellow dance majors in college. For the past 20 years, Poerstel has worked with choreographers including Jeanine Durning, Juliana F. May and RoseAnne Spradlin; Jones has danced with Ronald K. Brown, Ana King, and Marlies Yearby, among others. The program notes recognize these influences and their presence in the work. (Jones and Poerstel are credited with the choreography, Poerstel with the concept and direction.)

Sitting on the stage below the basement theater, the audience faces a low balcony and the stairs that surround it. Jones rushes down a flight of stairs to a thrilling score that includes samples of James Blake’s hypnotic loop “I’m interested.” What looks like a stream of consciousness movement flows out of its lanky frame: liquid footwork; Latin social dance notes; the flapping arms and swaying torso familiar from Brown’s repertoire. As the play progresses, Jones dons a mask and a voluminous red cape and walks in circles around the stage on two levels: up a staircase, across the balcony, on the other. side. With both immediate ease and tenacity of a taut thread, it draws us into its orbit.

At one point, Poerstel joins a fleeting duo, crawling across the floor in a choppy headbanging sequence. In a gentle lull, she and Jones sit still, heads touching, before she quickly disappears. Its presence is more evident in the overall construction of the work. Like many artists with whom she has danced, she makes intriguing, sometimes jarring, use of both repetition and non-sequences. Here, cyclical structures and sudden changes in light or sound capture the persistence and fallibility of memory, the way it endures and transforms.

“Monte” does not resolve the paternity issues it raises; nor, I think, intends to. Instead, he examines the porosity of the relationship between choreographer and dancer, between collaborators, between friends. Ultimately, as Jones shares fragmented stories from his life, he also expands this notion outward: We are the people we have known, even those who are physically gone. They too are present in the dance.

I am also Mountain

Until Saturday at Abrons Arts Center, Manhattan; abronsartscenter.org.

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