Dance showcases can be a bit of a gamble. It’s all part of the experience, but mixed in with choice discoveries can be less compelling ones. An abundance of budding talent and a strong democratic streak (or a weak curatorial hand) can mean too-long shows. And in this city where on any given night you can choose between several promising dance performances, time is of the essence. For these reasons, The Barnard Project at Dance Theater Workshop April 23-25 is particularly enticing.
Four accomplished choreographers with intriguingly different styles have spent the semester setting works on several dozen Barnard dance students, who perform the results this weekend at DTW. There’s Nora Chipaumire, originally from Zimbabwe, who mixes a powerful style with threads that connect to her African heritage and its rich cultural and political potential. Susan Rethorst, a longtime presence on New York’s dance scene, splits her time between New York and Amsterdam. Her recent work for her female company transplanted her living room to Danspace Project’s stage at St. Mark’s Church.
Morgan Thorson, from the New York area but now based in Minneapolis, has shown a keen eye for dramatic, sometimes humorous moments that can build slowly or explode. She can push the performance space, and our expectations, beyond the norm. And New York-based Nicholas Leichter puts together luscious, expansive movement that draws from myriad sources to create a language that’s uniquely his. It is irresistibly musical no matter if he’s creating dance for its own sake, tracing a storyline, or both. His playlist for this work includes Alicia Keys, John Legend, and Mary J. Blige.
Most dance students can only dream of working with choreographers of this range and caliber. (Juilliard’s year-end performances are on a very high level, but they often perform pre-existing works by more established choreographers instead of all newly commissioned work—a different kind of sweet.) To top it off, the Barnard students perform at one of the city’s best stages for contemporary dance. One “X” factor is whether the choreographers’ styles are so disparate as to stretch the students too far, technically. Another is that the audience is savvy and critical and may be hard to please. Or is that just another motivating factor to amp up their performances?
Photo by Julieta Cervantes