Marymount Manhattan Dance Department Fall Repertoire

Theresa Lang Theatre, New York City, December 9-11, 2004

Artistic Director: Katie Langan

Choreography by Elizabeth Higgins, Pat Daugherty,
Bahiyad Sayyed-Gaines, Denise Vale, and Franciso Martinez

A Review

The Marymount Manhattan Dance Department presented an evening of committed and strong dancing when I attended their Fall Repertoire concert on December 10 at the Theresa Lang Theatre in New York City. It was an evening that displayed the fine dancing of the students in the department, as well as the diverse choreography of the talented faculty.

The opening dance, Swell, was elegantly choreographed by Elizabeth Higgins, a Nikolais/Louis alumna. The piece, performed to a score by John Stone, began with simple spatial patterns and movement motifs, danced in groups, solos and trios. As the dance continued, the motifs and use of space became more complex as well as compelling. Larger groups of dancers faced upstage stepping in synchronized circular patterns as dancers would break out of the group downstage and then exit or rejoin. The pace continued to intensify as the dancers entered and exited the space with lightening speed, making contact with each other for a moment with a jump or turn and then moving on. I was mesmerized from the start and was drawn into the dance as it gained momentum and offered delightful moments of surprise and ingenuity. Stone’s score was initially engaging, but as the piece continued I found it less than supportive of the sparks being produced on stage by the dancers and Ms. Higgins’ choreography.

Although Temple of Dreams by Pat Daugherty contained some moments of inventiveness and took risks, this moody piece ultimately left me perplexed. Mr. Daugherty, who is on the music faculty of the dance program, attempted to engage us in the Greek myth of Nyx, “goddess of night, who mates with Erebus, personifying the darkness of the underworld.” Utilizing a piano as prop, a pitch pipe, the dancers own choreography as well as their voices, Mr. Daugherty created an ambitious piece that was ripe with experimentation. Dancers sang in a cappella a spooky sounding phrase as they entered in a long diagonal in a prayer-like fashion. Lead by one dancer they scurried, sneaked and leapt around the stage, occasionally hiding behind the downstage right piano, playing a few notes on it one by one, and then running away. It was a terrific exercise for the dancers, who on the night I saw it performed with commitment. They used their voices as best they could, played the piano, and acted out anguish and joy, with some dance steps thrown in. My feeling is that if a sound score had been used to support the sound created on stage, as well as some more expressive moments choreographically, this piece would have been much stronger.

Musical Chairs was a lighthearted, kinetic and playful piece created by Alvin Ailey principal dancer Bahiyah Sayyed-Gaines. Ms. Sayyed-Gaines countered strong, grounded movement and nimble directional changes, with beautiful balletic lines and moments of suspension. The dancers, in short unitards of varying shades of yellows and oranges, were up to the task and kept the energy going throughout this dance to Bach’s Cello Suite. They playfully took turns dancing with some tricky partnering, and then watching the dance from a set of chairs that were placed upstage.

My favorite piece on the program was choreographed by former Graham dancer Denise Vale and was aptly named Village Haiku. In four sections, Ms. Vale creates a community, a true village. A beautiful hanging sculpture by Devin Lindow was made of what looked like long crisscrossing sticks of bamboo and evoked images of a central meeting place, or place of worship. Most exciting was the “Stomp” section where student Alexander Jimenez rhythmically stomped then skipped in place, arms loosely moving back and forth while other dancers moved around him. His confident gaze toward the audience was spellbinding as his movements grew stronger. The final section felt like a communal square dance that I wished had continued longer than it did. The music for each section by different composers, including John Cage, Henry Patch and Jack Brody, and recorded by the Kronos Quartet, was woven seamlessly together.

To close the program, Francisco Martinez’s athletic Halted Senses, to music by Bang on a Can, was danced stylishly by a group of fourteen robust dancers. Long lines of the body and configurations were accented by beautiful dark blue unitards worn by the dancers.

— Pamela Levy-Arauz