This year, on paper, Evening Stars looked a little sad. The lineup had been reduced to one company, albeit Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and just three shows. In past years, the dance series, co-presented by the River to River Festival and the Joyce Theater, has featured a number of notable companies over the course of a week, or several themed programs. The venue moved to the open lawn of Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City, from a more ceremonious proscenium stage farther downtown. And overshadowing everything was the recent passing of Merce Cunningham.
And yet, as it should, art transcended all. Two smallish platforms separated by a path of about 50 feet were used continuously by the dancers. The Event comprised many short segments of old and new work set to music by David Behrman and Stephan Moore. We could position ourselves much closer of the dancers (or much farther away) than in a theater. We could process the constant nonverbal communication between partners, who checked one another with their eyes, their hands, whatever body parts touched. We saw the dancers make minute adjustments to their balances, their hard-working muscles trembling at times. We could more easily read the shifting dynamics between segments, the humor that arises from certain physical situations, the difficulty in maintaining stillness. The movement was different on each platform, demanding some peripheral viewing. The weather was ideal; the blue sky and setting sun provided clear, strong lighting—a live experience that matched the amped up mediation of HD TV and 3D films that we’ve become used to.
River to River’s Sitelines utilized a terrific variety of sites this year, including Governor’s Island, the Staten Island Ferry’s terminal, and South Cove, Battery Park City. Jonah Bokaer and Judith Sanchez Ruiz performed Untitled Corner at Chase Plaza in the Financial District, which provided a modernist, serene setting for these modern, serene dancers. A third “player” in the piece was Daniel Arsham’s cool styrofoam sculpture; two sides that Arsham dissembled and reassembled in scoop-shaped pieces resembled igloo parts atop white marley. Ruiz and Bokaer interacted with one another, leaning and lying on one another, supporting limbs, heads, and bodies—aware but not overly attentive to each other’s presence. As the sun marked the passage of time on the stage, they were eventually subsumed by the sculpture.
The cobblestones and granite slabs of the South Street Seaport made for a marked contrast in venue for Nicholas Leichter Dance’s A Space Funk Invasion. Collaborator Monstah Black—dressed in purple, high platform shoes, and twirling an umbrella—drew a crowd with his voguing overture along an imaginary runway. Leichter’s charismatic company performed his unique blend of myriad performance styles with great energy, despite being pressed right up against the crowd. They inspired some toddlers to improv along with them. Chances are many of the grown-ups there would’ve done the same but for a few decades of age.
Photograph of Merce Cunningham Dance Company by Julieta Cervantes.