SWEAT Modern Dance Series
Debaun Hall, Stevens Institute
Last night I went to something called SWEAT Modern Dance Series at Stevens Institute in Hoboken. I had thought that the curtain was 7:30 but it really was 8:00 and then a bit delayed at that, so I had time to really absorb the building: Greek Rival ca. 1850. Beautiful ceiling moldings, Corinthian columns, wall moldings painted in the Italian revival earth colors, and in the auditorium itself two cast iron pillars holding up the (mostly unused) balcony with ornate gas lamps. The beauty of the house itself is marred by the unfortunate (and unnecessary) placement of a light bridge perhaps 15 feet into the house from the apron edge, which partially obscures the basin chandeliers.
The stage is shallow, though wide enough, with a forestage as deep as the stage itself. I don’t know if there is a house drop. If there is, it was not used. We were treated on the house opening to the sight of a dirty scrim at the back wall of the stage through which we could see the electric outlets and other such “plumbing.” There is a black traveler to hide this offense, which was used in some of the pieces. There can't be much backstage area as the performers arrived through the lobby, and there was constant traffic from the house to the lobby to the bathrooms. I asked: There is one toilet backstage, perhaps, and yes, there is a way to get to the stage without coming through the front of the house. Since I was nearly an hour early, I had plenty of time to observe. I had opened a door adjacent to the stage marked “EXIT” that led me to a junk-filled area back stage right. I could not/did not explore further.
I knew the picture. With a little care and house cleaning a lot more could be done to make this facility a jewel. It could be a vital and important venue in historic Hoboken, an easy PATH ride from Manhattan, and of service to the “yuppie” population of the restored areas of Jersey City and Hoboken. But as it is there were perhaps 75 persons in the audience the house, not half full in the orchestra (no need for that balcony, obviously).
The dancing… well… not bad, each one too long. Was it Doris Humphrey who said, “All dances are too long.”? Amen! Several were what I call “brain choreography”—four times to the right, two times to the left, pause three counts, and repeat. A couple were “emotional choreography”—graphically depicting sorrow and pain and the consolation of masturbation. Then to relieve all this—one piece, a trio, beautifully costumed with bare arms, was choreographed with an eye to moving sculpture, but it dragged on much too long, and it, too, had to have that emotional twist. And finally, one solo piece made me sit up; it seemed to have a real motion premise and was well developed until that, too, wore itself out and then dragged on. In reading the program I find that this young artist had been mentored by Phyllis Lamhut. (Good for Phyllis for giving me a moment to relish.)
And the mounting (lighting) was atrocious, done by an amateur with no conception of the fact that light makes visible and supports a concept. The light batten on stage was visible to the audience. Perhaps the teaser could not be lowered nor the light batten raised? Two trees on the apron each held two instruments focused willy nilly and doing a good job of lighting the auditorium walls.
I note that Jody Oberfelder will be performing in this house in March. (At last I will get to see her late work.) With diplomacy and persistence and artistic insight perhaps Jody can get a decent mounting. I look forward to seeing her there.
Ruth Grauert, January 27, 2006