The Dance Enthusiast Celebrates Black Choreographers:
"Dance is my medicine ... Dance is the fist with which I fight the sickening ignorance of prejudice. Instead of growing twisted like a gnarled tree inside myself, I am able to dance out my anger and frustration." Pearl Primus
IMPRESSIONS OF: The Beverly Blossom Memorial Gala
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 1, 2015, at THE KAYE PLAYHOUSE in NYC
DANCERS: Betsy Fisher, Henning Rübsam, Ella Magruder, Mark Magruder, Douglas Nielsen, Christine Reisner, and Dancers from the University of Illinois in Brides, reconstructed by Mei-Kuang Chen
MUSIC: Consuelo Velasquez, Maurice Ravel, Randy Newman, Jules Massenet, Tomaso Albinoni, Brian Eno, Robert Frip, Jon Hassel, Claudio Monteverdi, Marvin Hamlisch and Robert Goulet
COSTUME DESIGN: Beverly Blossom, Richard Hornung and Rebecca Ruth
Note: Henning Rübsam’s SenseDance continues to perform at the Kaye Playhouse through November 4th, for tickets to AND THEN THERE WAS MORNING click here
“I am a ghost. I am a ghost,” the mysterious blonde man almost sings from the stage. Carrying a large suitcase, handsome in tails, with a top hat whose crown collapses comically, the well-dressed gent rapturously billows to Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor. After a spell of luscious swaying, he admits, to our amusement and his bemusement, “I like this.” Meanwhile, there is a broken mannequin onstage that we’ve been ignoring — a female torso, legs and arms disconnected.
In SHARDS, a surreal, short story of a dance created in 1993 by Beverly Blossom, Henning Rübsam skillfully toys with us and his props. Eventually he addresses the akimbo mannequin, wedging limbs to trunk to create a naked, seemingly flying doll, which he twirls joyously, even lovingly. When she inevitably breaks up, Rübsam’s ghost, apparently not the sentimental, haunting type, exits the stage, like a true New Yorker, by hailing a cab.
Theatricality, eccentricity, wit, and affection defined the evening at The Kaye Playhouse which this past Sunday, looked back on works by Beverly Blossom, exactly a year after her death. One of Alwin Nikolais' dancers from 1953 to 1960, Blossom continued dancing and creating through the early 2000’s, winning a Bessie Award in 1993 and a Martha Hill Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. She was noted for her quirky, highly individual works.
Rübsam and his company SenseDance produced the memorial evening inviting seasoned artists as guests — performers and colleagues of Blossom, whom we don’t often have the opportunity to see in New York. Mark and Ella Magruder, both at Sweetbriar College in Virginia, turned in deliciously detailed, comic performances; he in BESAME MUCHO (1987) and LAST BOW (1990), and she in BLACK TRAVELER (1961). Sporting a wiry, red wig Betsy Fisher, a former Murray Louis dancer and renowned soloist now teaching at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, was deadpan hilarious in Dad’s Ties (1983) a dance where a never-ending bounty of neckwear mysteriously emerges from the depths of Fisher’s skirt. Douglas Nielsen, who danced with Batsheva, Gus Solomons, Viola Farber, Anna Sokolow, and Murray Louis, and now teaches at the University of Arizona, created a touching “half-duet”— not a solo— dedicated to Blossom. In his brief, yet eloquent movement poem, Losing You (for Beverly), Nielsen moves as if searching for his friend, while wearing, in her honor, a magical coat of arms— literally, a white coat with sets of swinging papier maché arms attached. Nielsen’s unconventional get-up was a tribute to Blossom’s practice of always showing up for rehearsal in full character, a habit which Nielsen recognized as genius. He quotes her as saying, “Douglas, I can’t choreograph unless I know my character.”
BRIDES (1981), the only group work of the evening, was performed by a talented cast from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign who traversed the stage in the manner of expressionless mannequins. As tunes by Brian Eno (with Robert Frip and John Hassel) melt into Claudio Monteverdi’s muzak-like “What Are You Doing For the Rest of Your Life,” young brides — both boy and girl — in white silk gowns go through motions of wedding preparation. Neither flowing fabric, nor roses, nor a lone “groom figure” floating in on a hover board-like contraption, can convince us that the state of the the nearly-wed is dewy-eyed bliss.
Perhaps it’s the “knowing” in Blossom’s work that touches us still. Such intelligence on stage never grows old; it either leaves you longing for more, or saying "ahh — that’s enough, now I can go home inspired.”
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