Steps Repertory Ensemble at Ailey Citigroup Theater….
As a dancer I once spent many an hour at Steps. I remember when Steps was just a small space with one studio. As Steps grew they relocated to the old Melissa Hayden Studio near Lincoln Center, you could often find me in Cindy Green’s ballet class, she gave an excellent barre. Steps later moved to 74th & Broadway and became known at Steps on Broadway, there you could find me in Willy Berman’s ballet class, for Classical ballet, Willy is one of the best. So you could say that Steps and I go way back, hence when I heard about the Steps Repertory Ensemble, I was natural curious.
I knew Steps has been instrumental in producing some excellent dancers, I mean, not to toot my own horn, but I had studied there. So I knew what level of talent that should be offered by any Dance company that had Steps associated with its name. Well, I must say I was not disappointed…the dancers lived up to my expectations. Now, for the choreography, let’s just say during the first half of the program I was more than a little worried.
I am such a big fan of Manuel Vignoulle, I had witnessed the finesse and athleticism of his performances, so to see he had choreographed the first work of the evening had me doubly excited. Le Moi Sauvage opened with Gina Ianni dressed in a red tunic while seated in a lotus position, several dancers are lying prone on the floor behind her. Well, it looked promising, but that promise was sadly short lived.
I am not sure if the dancers’ squirming and jerking around her were meant to represent Ms. Ianni’s thoughts or emotional emanating from her meditation, but for me, it did not work. I could not correlate the supposed angst of the work with the jittery movements combined with rolling and crawling around on the floor. Ms. Ianni walks to the front of the stage, the dancers seated on the floor behind her begin to scoot forward and then scoot back to where they started. Why? There was nothing original in the choreographic choices made. The score by Lisa Gerrard and Marcel Dettman was awesome, just wasted on this work.
Hooked, choreographed by Yesid Lopez was so unexpected and so welcomed after the first piece. Performed by Mr. Lopez and the stunningly beautiful Elia Valis, Hooked is an emotional duet of great complexity and lyricism.
There was continuous movement between Mr. Lopez and Ms. Valis, she seldom leaves his embrace. Ms. Valis, in a blood red camisole dress that flowed around her as she moved and Mr. Lopez, shirtless in brown pants would sweep Ms. Valis into intricate lifts that required unquestionable trust.
Mr. Lopez uses the romanticism of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to create a seamless merge of music and dance. He painted the perfect picture. I could have watched this dance again and again. Yesid Lopez is a great talent and I expect great things will come from him in the future.
I have seen Elia Valis perform several times and I am always stunned by her sheer grace and beauty. This is a person born to dance; it comes as natural to her as breathing. I am amazed she has not been snapped up by one of the major companies….
Nathan Trice’s Conversations seemed incomplete and lacked both cohesion and direction. Two dancers would come together to perform a duet while other dancers watched, then wander around the stage till someone else came together for a duet. I did find any conversation happening between the dancers as the title of the work implied.
Though the first half of the program had me skeptical and more than a little concerned, redemption was to be found in the second half of the program. Everything I had expected from the Steps Repertory Ensemble occurred after the intermission.
Zvi Gotheiner’s Chairs has moments of genius. The opening solo by Katherine Sprudzs had me riveted. She is in a pool of white light, seated in a chair of which she seldom left and when she did it was only momentary. There was something about Mr. Sprudzs solo that brought to mind Martha Graham in Lamentations. There is the same angst, the same longing and the same need for understanding. Ms. Sprudzs is a long-legged beauty her movements fluid and full. Everything she did she did with total commitment. Arms were moved in complicated patterns; the motion created by the arms would flow though the body and continue by way of her legs into infinity. An arm swings out causing the torso to follow in a swing of which the natural momentum rears her back lifting a leg slightly bent; her hands grasp the sides of the chair as she swivels into a wide second position plié while remaining seated. Her long hair whips and flows with each movement of the upper torso, accenting her statements like a banner of defiance. Brava Katherine Sprudzs, Brava…
The genius of Chairs is that it is simple movement applied in complicated phasing and patterns. It’s a sort of musical chairs, nine chairs each with a seated dancer, they switch and change, some fast, some slow, causing a constant rhythm of movement like a wave hitting the shore.
In more shadows than light Clinton Edwards is found standing on a chair, he reaches his hand out for David Scarpino to join him. They begin a duet of tender passion, each is embracing the other. Mr. Scarpino lefts Mr. Edwards into the air and sets him gently on the floor only to pull him back up into his embrace. The beauty of this duet is that the simplistic movement choices enhance the emotional aspects, the yearning, the longing, the need for repentance and its acceptance. The duet has a quietly intense energy. It was masterfully done…
Tit for Tat, choreographed by the brothers Rick and Jeff Kuperman to Mark Korven’s score was a work primarily four men, Landes Dixon, Jeff Kuperman, Victor Larue and Gabriel Malo. Dressed all in black, they are not a group but rather individuals that have come together with like purpose. This work emphasizes the athleticism of these young men as the climb and jump upon and off each other.
Just under the surface is a simmering anger mixed with a quiet energy that is seldom still. One gets the sense of eavesdropping on a private conversation, something you’re not really supposed to hear. The dancers are not confrontational but nor do they avoid confrontation with each other.
The four come together, facing each other, slowly roll their shoulders and smoothly slide their hands into their pockets in a statement of cool machismos. So much was said with so little movement. There is no statement but yet a statement was made.
Tit for Tat possesses a slight grittiness, an urban realness, NYC subways, the East Village at three in the morning, a sense of something slightly dangerous but you are still drawn to it. This work cannot be examined for meaning but must still be accepted as a statement of fact.
Shannon Gillen’s On Certainty is one of the most exciting contemporary works I have seen in a while. The sheer boldness of the choices made for the creation of this work shouts artistic courage. It is a work with originality of movement and vision.
Frank Bretschneider and Ryoki Ikeda soundscape lends to Ms. Gillen’s exploration of pedestrian movement. These same gestures and motions are magnified, dissected and the re-assembled into something else entirely. There is a lot of sliding in this piece often with the feet in a wide fourth position. Dancers stop and begin small obsessive hand gestures that become backlit so they appear shadows rather than silhouettes of an individual. Ms. Gillen is an artist of exceptional talent that I expect we will hear much of in the not too distant future….
Landes Dixon is such a joy to see, his every moment on stage is full. Mr. Dixon is tall and lean with long limbs, all of which he uses to create flowing shapes of expression. His arms and hands follow through on arcs of remarkable beauty. He is a dancer to watch.
Gabriel Malo is an exceptionally gifted dancer; he has a way of suspending himself in space amplifying his movement quality. I very much enjoyed his performance.