Friday, April 17, 2009

Second Avenue Dance Company Retro Concert April 1 – 6, 2009, New York, NY, (excerpted)

Catherine DeAngelis in the opening solo of Susan Marshall's "Name by Name" (left)*

In an odd bit of synchronicity, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts presented its major Spring Dance concerts coincidental with the culmination of “March Madness” – the men's and women's NCAA basketball championships. In an oft-repeated TV spot shown during the tournament a voiceover reminds us, “There are over 400,000 college athletes, and almost all of us will be going professional in something other than sports.”

The Tisch School stands among the elite in academic dance programs worldwide. Its concert “bracket” featured a two-program schedule. Each concert consisted of six works. Susan Marshall’s 2007  “Name by Name,” which led off each program, deployed 18 women to sound several intriguing themes and ideas that echoed through the rest of both programs.

The piece opens with the riveting Catherine DeAngelis lying at our feet, cut off from view from the waist down by the red stage curtain that falls across her hips. To a piano theme from composer David Lang's “Increase” she enacts a solo of hand, arm and torso gestures. She seems to enfold and reach through space as if half in dream, longing for a missing bed partner.

Slowly the curtain parts to reveal the remainder of the cast arrayed in formal corps de ballet poses across the front of the stage standing and kneeling in parallel lines. As Lang's music adds voices to become a driving Glass/Reich like engine, Marshall will revisit and develop all of these early theatrical and movement themes. The revelations and surprises she introduces and unravels weave a vibrant spatial tapestry. She shoots and shuttles fugue-like trios, duets, quartets, variations on the corps lines, circling and darting cross stage runs, falls, rolls, and balletic friezes and figures almost continuously through her warp and woof.

Marshall's impassioned yet stoic work, created at the height of the debacle in Iraq, put me much in mind of the human imperative to carry on in the face of incomprehensible and essentially unspeakable loss; the dancing eloquent in its matter-of-fact reserve. In program notes, she dedicates the piece to her mother and acknowledges the collaboration of its original Juilliard cast.

The assertion of, in this case female, fortitude elucidates a universal theme while evoking issues much more closely at hand. For the women of Tisch, along with their much less numerous male counterparts, have acquitted themselves splendidly across the several nights of this capstone to their college careers.

It seems apparent that almost all if not all of the men in the Second Ave Dance Company can and will work as paid professional dancers if they want to work. Some have already been offered and have accepted such jobs. In spite of talent and accomplishment at least as great as that of the men, the outlook in the women's bracket looks much more like that of the athletes in the NCAA. This rite of Spring,  therefore, may offer the last best hope for many of them as maturing artists, and Marshall’s work both acknowledges and celebrates a signal moment in these lives.

“Name by Name” fully redeems its title. Somewhere in my head, as the stage lights fade before the bow, that stalwart line of women, shoulder to shoulder, still advances.

* photo by Ella Bromblin copyright 2009

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