June 29, 2022
The advent of modern dance saw expanded movement vocabularies within newly invented techniques. The postmodern movement of the 1960’s was concerned more with motion, as well as breaking from classical structures with new choreographic methods. As a student and professional dancing in the 21st century, I’ve often wondered how we might identify the guiding principles of what is so frustratingly vaguely termed “contemporary dance.”
Gibney Company’s Up Close provided an answer – we are no longer interested in movement, nor in motion; we are interested in dancing itself – making and performing it as dazzlingly as possible, alongside increased advocacy for fair and equitable compensation for artists, so historically conditioned to working tooth-and-nail for next-to-nothing.
Up Close is not a piece; it is a sort of programming format. It is never made clear in the program for Gibney’s New York Live Arts run what this format is, but what unfolded was an evening of three short to mid-length works, made by two guest choreographers, Yin Yue and Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, and one “Choreographic Associate,” Rena Butler, who additionally performed as a dancer in the Company.
Their works were ordered with a keen sense of digestibility – two short dances (Butler’s and Yin Yue’s), followed by Sansano’s longer piece on the other side of an intermission. The combination of dazzling dancing and program digestibility melds into how Gibney aims to solve the problem of an underfunded dance sector – strip away the esotericism of contemporary dance to appeal to a wider audience.
For a program featuring three choreographers of diverse and intersecting identities, these digestible dances were disappointingly similar in an aesthetic I can only encapsulate as “opening ensemble number on Fox’s "So You Think You Can Dance.” Gibney’s remarkable ensemble of dancers are all masters in infusing American competition-grade contemporary movement with convenient notes of contemporary European styles. If you notice I’m saying “contemporary” a lot, that’s precisely the problem.
Rena Butler’s Re / Build / Construct (Part I) tries too hard to make something of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” with a collaged score by Darryl J. Hoffman and a modular set, designed by Tsubasa Kamei to illustrate the Allegory’s images of shadows and light. The movement falls dynamically flat, dancers vigorously hobbling around like Coppélia dolls and yammering gibberish to express their unenlightened state.
A Measurable Existence allows itself to be about nothing specific, and more purely showcases Yin Yue’s athletic moves.
Sansano’s To the End of Love nods to Pina, strewing the floor with posters of online dating lingo, shed a la Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Quirky music choices and sudden affective contrasts will not so much delight tanztheater enthusiasts, but allow novices a way in.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews-Guzman