Bergen DanceMakers — An Evening of New Works

Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ
May 19, 2011

A Review by Virginia Dillon

Bergen DanceMakers is a group of choreographers living in Bergen County, New Jersey, who are committed to developing their own artistic voices. Members of the collective are involved in the development of one another’s ideas with the goal of guiding each artist’s distinctive vision. In a workshop format, the group gathers monthly to share creative material, reflecting on and evolving their work.

Eclectic describes the group, whose members range in age from 7 to 93 and hail from The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to Alwin NIkolais, and eclectic describes the program.

Eclectic also describes the work of Lynn Needle whose piece Haunting opened the evening. A former member of he Nikolais Company, Needle maintained a tension throughout this piece that evolved from a crouching position to standing and looking upstage into the distance. The movement of the piece has an integrity that to me rendered the film projection a distraction.

 Lynn Needles and Annie Hickman in a rehearsal of Papillion

In the middle of the evening she collaborated on Crying Out Into with Kent Lindemer, whose former work with Pilobolus was evident in the elegant shapes and couplings into and out of which the couple evolved. A striking moment that remains with me occurred toward the end of the dance when Needle, temporarily apart from Lindemer, simply stood facing offstage, during which I felt that she truly experienced stillness and allowed me to feel it as well.

Needle also closed the evening with a costume extravaganza en pointe called Papillon. At the opening we see Annie Hickman, an artist recognized for the basketry from which she creates various creatures, as a katydid posed against a slide by Ruth Grauert. The butterflies flutter in with wings made of silk, also by Annie Hickman, and although the costumes are beautiful, the movement needs to be more specific for the katydid, and its relationship to the butterflies needs to be articulated; otherwise they’re all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Valse Fantaasie, a classical ballet choreographed by Olivia Galgano, a former member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, was beautifully performed by her students to music by Mikhail Glinka and enhanced with slides by Ruth Grauert. The dance was not laden with any mystery or hidden meaning. Beauty was the subject and predicate.

Although aware of Claire Porter’s reputation, this was the first time I’d seen her work and it was worth waiting for. See You Around began with Claire dressed as a businesswoman carrying an armful of file folders. Her space is delineated on the floor with green tape. A man, also in a business suit and carrying an armful of manila folders, joins her. She asks him if he has seen “Bob” around, and then they kick the word “around” around and leave the space for a brief moment only to return and have an even more bizarre conversation about what they did the year before. This happens a number of times, and we get the idea that they’re in an elevator and keep getting off on the wrong floor. The conversations are not only humorous but thought provoking, and Claire Porter and her partner, Sabatino Verlezza, are such accomplished performers that it all makes perfect sense.

Another example of dance theater and absolute commitment to performance is given in Home Bound, performed by Lilliana Amador-Marty who has an MFA in acting from the University of Minnesota. Dressed in a white jumpsuit, she appears seated in a black chair in the center of a spotlight. She explores ways of being in the chair, but it becomes clear that she cannot leave it—the chair has become an appendage. The dance was a very satisfying exploration of frustration.

Frustration was also the theme of Theresa Conlon’s Up Against The Wall, which had her climbing the walls—or trying to. She started out at the right proscenium and tried in every way, short of getting a ladder, to ascend the round column like a cat trying to get at a birds nest. Although she seemed to despair, she’d get a breath and start in again—never giving in to the frustration.

Although according to the program notes, Ann Coppola usually plays Mother Goose, for this evening she choreographed and performed Old Bags in which she emerged form a pile of garbage on the right side of the stage, to adorn herself with pretty things found on a sculptural form on the left side of the stage. She is all dressed up and has somewhere to go, so she hails a cab—clothes make the woman.

That Susan Thomasson has a solid modern dance background, having danced with Pilobilus, Anna Sokolow, Bill T. Jones, as well as in her own choreography, is apparent in her performance of Handmade. We find her center stage in the center of a spotlight dressed in a bright red dress with a wide skirt, which she is holding out to her right side with her right hand. In the center of the red field she has placed her left hand. She begins to riff on the word "hand" and to change the position of her hand and the skirt. The piece maintains an intensity that is heightened by the flamenco music by Marta Gomez.

Susan Cherniak hails form the Erick Hawkins school of dance, and Fractured Layers seemed to represent more traditional modern dance, without any gimmicks or verbalization. Her four dancers explored combinations of movement and spatial forms, and maintained ensemble and good sense of motion throughout.

All in all there was something for everyone in this evening with the Bergen DanceMakers.