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IMPRESSIONS: Dances by Isadora presents "Isadora on the Beach" at Rockaway Beach

IMPRESSIONS: Dances by Isadora presents "Isadora on the Beach" at Rockaway Beach

Published on August 9, 2021
"Tanagra Figures"; Photo by Nadia Lesy and Jaden Luther

July 29, 2021

Choreography: Isadora Duncan with adaptions for the environment

Performers: Natalia Brillante, Kathleen Caragine, Marie Carstens, Abra Cohen, Catherine Gallant, Rosy Gentle, Loretta Thomas

Pieces in order of appearance: Seagull, Tanagra Figures, Water Study, Feathers, Grande MarcheNarcissus, Blue Danube

Music in order of appearance: Johannes Brahms' Waltz Op 39 No. 8, Germaine Tailleferre, Amy Beach, C.W. Gluck, George Walker, Frédéric Chopin 

 They appeared as if nymphs sprung from the water itself. I’m talking about the seven women of Dances by Isadora, who took to a Rockaway Beach to portray seven pieces by the O.G. of modern dance, Isadora Duncan. Against the triple strata of sky, surf, and sand, they wafted and waved and walked and waltzed. Around them, beachgoers doing beachy things (tanning, napping behind sunglasses) were, at first, surprised and, then, captivated by the free-spirited gamboling.

The Isadora on the Beach program showcased a charming duet for Rosy Gentle and Kathleen Caragine (Feathers with music from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice), a structured improv based on the Tanagra Figures sequence, Duncan’s famous Water Study (adopted here for dancing on sand), and Blue Danube led by Artistic Director Catherine Gallant, among others. A Duncan connoisseur would probably appreciate the sui generis of each work, but for the casual watcher, the short pieces tumbled out one after another in a glorious stream of motion compelled by emotion.

Against a blue sky, two women in orange and pink Grecian tunics lift opposite legs in attitude while smiling.
Rosy Gentle and Kathleen Caragine in Feathers; photo by Nadia Lesy and Jaden Luther

The conditions weren’t prime for dancing, to say the least. The troupe maintained serenity as they navigated the sand’s bumpy surface. Above their heads, seagulls swooped and darted, chirping like a flock of self-important harpies. The music—mostly melodic classical selections—was barely audible due to a stereo blasting strident 4/4 rock-n-roll. From time to time, the shrill peal from a lifeguard’s whistle and the whir of a sand buggy pierced the communal harmony. Gusts of sand (the wind clocked in at 20 mph; I checked on my weather app) spat grit over everyone and everything.

And yet, unexpected magic occurred. The wind rippled through the costumes of colorful tunics to invoke a second layer of choreography. Although I chose a poor vantage point, it didn’t matter. The rocky crests and snowcapped waves intriguingly filled the negative space formed by the dancers. Most of all, everywhere I looked, I saw Duncan’s sensibilities apparent in the 21st century. That could be in a young child skipping, a non-svelte non-dancer bebopping, or two bathing beauties posing like Greek goddesses as they snapped the perfect selfie.

A woman in a lavender and green tunic poses on a beach with her arm up like she is holding a tray. Her body is tilted back. Two men by the water's edge are by the water's edge.
Abra Cohen of Dances by Isadora; photo by Nadia Lesy and Jaden Luther

Isadora on the Beach commenced as a grant application to Green Arts Live NYC through the City Parks Foundation. Permission was secured from NYC Parks and Recreation at Rockaway Beach to perform, but funding didn’t come through. The dancers wanted to do what they love to do, which presented an opportunity to capture pictures and video—and to bring joy and wonder to the accidental tourists of Duncan’s oeuvre.  

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