NACHMO Studio Showing
By Kacie Peterson
Eighteen DC-area choreographers accepted an “annual kick in the pants” challenge for choreography creation during January in what is formally known as National Choreography Month (NACHMO). Of those 18, 15 of them presented their works-in-progress at Dance Exchange on February 10, during the NACHMO DC Studio Showing.
A packed house of audience members filled make-shift rows of chairs, benches and seat cushions, while sitting and spilling out on to the black marley floor. Their presence that evening served as a strong reminder that the arts are important to more than those who create it.
The evening opened with the city cries, a solo choreographed and danced by Sara Herrera. As she sat crouched, she traced small, non-existent lines on the floor and muttered to herself, “Dream. Dream, dream, dream” (from The Everly Brother’s song All I have to do is dream). The situation Herrera was depicting was instantly recognizable: she was homeless and suffering from a mental illness.
Herrara’s commitment to her portrayal had her almost in tears and the audience couldn’t look away. We watched her internal struggle and the distraught looks she cast in our direction. We watched her soft movement that carried a silent and heavy weight. She ended the piece by bringing an unsuspecting viewer onto the stage, embracing her in a hug and inviting her to trace the small, non-existent lines on the floor. Perhaps Herrera is suggesting that we’re all in need of that human connection, whether it’s physical or emotional.
While the showing was a works-in-progress evening, Herrera left me wanting to know more about her character. How does this woman’s story end? How did her story start? Does she get the help she needs? I’m invested and I need to know more.
Next, Patricia Germann quietly walked on stage and taped a blue line from downstage to upstage. She stood on the right side of the line. Chartamia “Shay” Turner joined her, standing on the left side of the line. They faced each other and rested their foreheads against the other. “Patricia to Shay. Over.” And the dance Over (conceptualized by Germann) began. Like a conversation held via walkie-talkies, Turner and Germann used movement to carry the conversation, and “over” to signal the end of their choreographed statements.
They engaged in an authentic display of ‘anything you can do, I can do better,’ with sly glances that communicated, “how are you going to interpret that?” The pair dance-battled on their side of the line, sometimes crossing over to the other’s space, but always ending on their respective sides. Each woman built off the movement motif set by the other during their solo and waited patiently for the vocal “over” cue to take her turn. In one instance, Turner crossed the line and shimmied on Germann, who stood stoically waiting. When Turner had made her way back to the right side of the line, Germann held her own in a silent dance-party of shimming in place. Germann’s intriguing concept based on a simple, one-worded phrase was a genuine opportunity to showcase the creativity of these two women. While the cut-off for the showing was seven minutes, I could have watched the exchange for longer before Germann called, “Over and out.”
Kyoko Ruch’s When Snails Collide was a delightful and quirky display of choreography juxtaposed to music. Her sharp, angular movements played to the lighthearted guitar strumming of Stephen Wrembel and the Stephen Wremble Trio. Ruch perfectly paired with Abby Leithard in size, strength and technique in a duet of sophistication and subtle silliness.
The two are clearly the snails that collide, often finding themselves glued together in different combinations of facings. A slight chuckle rolled through the audience at each occurrence. Ruch’s choreography is athletic, by all definitions of the word. In an intimate theater, we hear the panting as her duet (and following solo by Julia Timpane) covers the stage with leaps, modern choreography, and nods to more formal ballet movement. Timpane performed a solo as part of Ruch’s piece, her ballet training evident and strong. While the connection between the duet and solo isn’t clear (other than all three women wearing white-themed outfits), I’m sure Ruch will develop transition that is cohesive and understandable.
On came Carolyn Hoehner and Emily Iannotti for their work, Blood Orange. Dressed in shear antique dresses of gold and off-white, I was transported to a different era. I don’t know what year it was, but I would escape 2017 for the next few minutes.
Hoehner began with a strong gestural phrase. The movement was mechanical, but smooth. She conjured up the image of a wind-up toy, but with more grace; each moment held long enough to be seen, but not too long to be predictable.
The pair made brilliant use of choreographic tools of changes in effort, timing and space – changing moments of choreography to create suspense, but maintaining the familiarity of the movement. Iannotti is a fearless partner. Running diagonally across the stage, she threw herself horizontally at Hoehner, who caught her at the last moment and without hesitation. The women covered the space with weighted, yet unintentionally graceful, skips, runs, and jumps. They sounded like the herd of elephants that ballet teachers always complain about hearing at the end of a leap sequence, but these women were stunning. It was a piece that I could have watched again and again.
Taryn Brown’s stage was set with four brown coasters and a white vase with white flowers sitting on a short stool for her solo piece Conduit. The beautiful thing about Brown’s choreography and movement is her heartfelt intention. You can actually see which area of the body is guiding the momentum she’s harnessing. Whether it’s her elbow, her knee cap or the small of her back – it’s visible and rewarding to witness. Her energy is deliberate – there either is or is not life extending through her fingertips and toes. Her actions are never half-done.
She asked us to close our eyes. When we didn’t react to her request, she asked again. The second time, we listened. Brown began to sing. She clinked the coasters. She was in the middle of the stage when we listened to her instructions, but through projection manipulation, I could no longer confidently know where she would be when I opened my eyes. She sounded distant. Was she still even in the room? The stool had been flipped upside down; the coasters stacked one on each leg. Her movement became hasty, but not frantic; there was an urgency. Before I knew it, the stool had been kicked and the coasters rolling across the floor. Only when the last one spun to a stop did Brown acknowledge the end of her piece.
Light My Path, the work of Shauna Edson, shared the story of a mentor and mentee. With a clear image of a youth and mentor, Edson explores the relationship between them. Her piece seemingly asked and answered the questions: How does a mentor continue to lead while maintaining energy for herself and how does a youth respond to nurturing that sometimes goes unwanted? With sweeping gestures and independent moments of choreography within the duet, Edson successfully shares that the relationship between mentor and mentee goes both ways- they grow stronger together.
Synesthesia by Samantha Sobash offered the comedic relief for the evening by pairing a stand-up comedian Tig Notaro’s “TSA” and “Self Defense/Shark Attack” with interpretive dance. As Notaro explains how to fend off a shark attack (by hitting it in the eyes and gills), Sobash’s four dancers hilariously demonstrated underwater self-defense. As an especially pun-ny addition, one dancer of the quartet wore leggings with sharks on them, designating her as the shark for all situational explanations. The quartets easy facial expressions kept the work lighthearted and the audience giggling as we learned that rubbing the belly of a shark will help it to fall asleep.
In its third year, NACHMO DC added something new – a youth component. Choreographers under the age of 18 were invited to present works. Three youths presented works: Reflections, choreographed and danced by Tammy Mamlet, and By Comparison, choreographed and performed by Haya Goldblatt and Sarah Kerestesy. Both pieces demonstrated an extensive creative vocabulary and strong technique. I commend their courage and commitment to take on a month of movement and perform it in front of an audience. In future endeavors, I would encourage these young dancers to explore the backspace and feel the energy of the dance throughout all limbs.
The evening was a great adventure into the minds of our area artists and their ability to create content under the deadline of 30 days. Other performances of the evening included Pompeii, choreographed by Elizabeth Rosendorf Hoard, Expose(d), choreographed and danced by Truly A. Bennett, III: Exude, choreographed by Rachel Turner, Sweptm choreographed by May Kesler, Embodied, choreographed and danced by Emma Dozier, and Under Mind, choreographed by Ashlee McKinnon.
NACHMO DC was coordinated by Glade Dance Collective and supported by Dance Exchange, Petworth Arts Collaborative, and Dance Loft on 14.