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Young Dancemakers Company at Ailey Citigroup Theater

August 17, 2012

Young Dancemakers Company

Okay, I did not know what to expect when I walked into the Ailey Citigroup Theater for the finale performance of the Young Dancemakers Company, so I went in open-minded. I am so glad I did!

These 19 young dancers, ranging in ages between 14 and 18, are from different NYC high schools and were chosen by audition. Under the leadership of director/founder Alice Teirstein, they are exposed to not just technique classes, but repertory classes and then given rehearsal space and guidance in the creation of their own works. It gives the teenagers an opportunity to express and explore issues that are vital to today’s youth.

Were these polished professional dancers? No, but what was evident was a love for dance, a commitment to the art of dance and a lot of budding young talent. All the works presented, except for two, “Ella” choreographed by Robert Battle andUrban Shuffle” choreographed by Sean Curran, were original works created and performed by the teenagers.

In the beginning of the performance the dancers introduced themselves via short solos; here you could see the wide-range of techniques that the dancers had been exposed to. African, Classical Ballet, Graham, Horton and Stepping were all present.

Manuela Agudelo’s “Talking Eyes Silent Lips” was a powerful tour de force. It was set to a compilation of music by Olafur Arnalds and the poetry of Ms. Agudelo. It spoke of a young woman’s road of self-discovery with an undercurrent of anger, pain and experiences that only a teen can express. One line of her poem in particularly stood out for me “If I were a room my windows are shut”.  A powerful work and a powerful performance… bravo!

Taheem Porter’s “Bully” explored just that, bullies and being bullied. Her use of Max Richter for the score was an unexpected treat and leant gravity to Ms. Porter’s commitment of statement. The dance for four women and one man was intense and emotional. Ms. Porter was fearless as she explored a poignant truth of this present generation.

Justin Torres’ “School’s Out” was the joy, chaos and confusion of the last day of school. This was a fun piece, no heavy undertones, just pure enjoyment and joy de vivre. It was a little slapstick, a little vaudeville with a cow heard mooing in the background. Why a cow, it did not matter, it just leant to the humorous nature of the piece.

Young Dancemakers Company Photo by Julie Lemberger

But Justin Torres must be mentioned for another reason. This young man has tremendous potential. He has a promising facility for dance, a natural mover with excellent turnout and always pointed feet, great flexibility and a powerful jumper. I truly hope and can only encourage him to take his dancing seriously. If he does not have a dance scholarship somewhere, he should!

“Ella”, choreographed by Robert Battle, the new Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater was infectious. This is the dance that the kids rehearsed in repertory class. It was staged by former Ailey dancer Marlena Wolfe and she is prominently featured in the daunting and gravity defying solos of the work. Ms. Wolfe appears and instantly executes a flawless overhead aerial and just keeps going from there. What is there to say, Ms. Wolfe, the kids and the work was simply brilliant.

“Last Words”, choreographed by Nia-Imani Scriven was a touching reminder that Cancer is a presence in the life of everyone. Ms. Scriven lost her grandparents to Cancer and this dance is a representation of her last words to them. Four dancers, all dressed in white were sincere in their emotions, their movements somber but not sad. It was a moving experience watching the dance for I also lost my grandmother to Cancer. I want to say a thank you to Ms. Scriven for being brave enough to share something so intensely intimate.

Young Dancemakers Company Photo by Julie Lemberger

Randolph Dobie is a Stepper and more than willing to prove it. In his work “Competition”, Mr. Dobie plus another male dancer and two woman dancers set about competing to see who could come up with the most dazzling array of rhythms, slapping their thighs, hands and bodies as each created more and more complex syncopation. The audience loved it, the person next to me muttering an “all right now” under her breath with admiration.

“Helpless” was poignant in its simplicity. Daikiri Feliz explores the complexity in trying to help someone you care for when they can’t care for themselves. For anyone who has an aging parent or a loved one who is an invalid, this dance will strike the heart-strings. Chloe London and Manuela Agudelo try to assist each other, one helping the other to walk, one catching the other when about to fall or simply lending a hand so the other can set up from a prone position. Each was caring and tender with the other, offering support and guidance each wanting to do so much for the other but eventually coming to the realization and understanding that they can only do so much.

Sean Curran’s “Urban Shuffle” set to the music of Lenny Pickett was must least favorite of the evening. It was not so much a dance piece as it is an exercise in dancing. As a former dancer myself, I can see what Mr. Curran, who I love by the way, was doing. Mr. Curran was teaching the students how to interpret with their bodies a set series of steps, choreographic fragments, so they can then transform them from just a series of steps to actual dancing. Not a simple thing to accomplish. But I think Mr. Curran did an excellent job.

Young Dancemakers Company Photo by M. Hurwitz

Young Dancemakers Company is a unique, free summer dance ensemble of NYC teens dedicated to creating their own original choreography and performing it in free touring concerts city-wide, for audiences of up to 1500 young people and adults each season. Company members, selected annually by audition, are drawn from throughout the NYC public high schools.

The dancers are exposed to different styles of dance movement by working with and learning excerpts from established choreographers, this year it was Sean Curran and Robert Battle.  Past choreographers have been Donald McKayle, José Limón, Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, Mark Morris, and award-winning Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane.

In daily, intensive sessions Mondays through Fridays 10 AM to 5 PM throughout the month of July, the company explores dance-making processes under the direction of Alice Teirstein, choreographer, dancer, dance educator and long- time dance faculty member of the Fieldston School, where she developed and led the school’s dance program. William Catanzaro, internationally renowned as a composer for dancers and choreographers, works closely with the director and the student choreographers as the work is developed.

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