IMPRESSIONS: FJK Dance/Fadi J. Khoury's "Reset" at New York Live Arts
October 7, 2021
Choreography and Costumes: Fadi J. Khoury
Performance: Sarita Apel, Elisa Toro Franky, Estefano Gil, Gianni Goffredo, Fadi J. Khoury, Leonel Linares, Dayanis Mondeja, Sayuri Tanabe, Tim Ward
Music: Maurice Ravel, Franz Schubert, Abdel Wahab and Hossam Shaker with sound design by Omar Dewachi
Lighting Design: Calvin Anderson
Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” is simple in its construct. A snare drum plays a melody, and gradually, other instruments join until the full orchestra is playing fortissimo possible — as loud as they can.
Simple doesn’t mean it’s easy to choreograph to. Although originally commissioned by dancer Ida Rubinstein, the music’s repetition and amplification don’t necessarily lend themselves to novel interpretations. Sustaining an audience’s interest through its 17 minutes (more or less, depending on the conductor’s construal) can be formidable.
With only nine company artists, including artistic director/dynamo Fadi J. Khoury, FJK Dance honors the music’s structure while moving beyond its strictures. Khoury accomplishes this by melding his personal history through choreography.
Born in Iraq to a dancer dad, he studied ballet, jazz, ballroom, modern, and folkloric dance in Lebanon before arriving in New York. There, he excelled as a social and competitive dancesport teacher. These disparate influences cascade through Bolero, which unfurls like a cross between an haute couture fashion show and a Broadway revue.
In fabulous super-long skirts, dancers strut, pose, and toss off the occasional coupé jeté, piqué arabesque or fan kick. Solos, duos, trios and more gush over the stage, in unison and counterpoint. Right when the dancing blurs together, a woman in a sleek red unitard cruises downstage. She kicks, flicks and undulates her hips, throwing off the actions with a sinuous attitude. This inspired touch intensifies the momentum to a flurry of gender-neutral partnering. The piece then hurtles to its final climax of nine dancers staring down the audience.
The influences of Khoury’s background appear in overt and subtle ways. If you’ve never seen ballroom dancing beyond the odd episode of Dancing with the Stars, you might miss its influence in the partnering. The performers exploit connections felt in the hands but manifested through body weight, hip rotation, and the articulation of the back. This allows them to snap, flow and melt from one pose to the next.
The melting pot approach reveals its innovation during the port de bras. Although executed with balletic grace, the arms travel through first port de bra in an X rather than the typical O. Limbs ripple and billow, like a swan that's discovered its sensuality. Eyes, and thus the head, follow the pathways of these port de bras, and Khoury et al. often cock their head upward, as if performing for the kings of yore. They’re not scared, though, to turn their back and let their flesh and muscle tell the story.
Two other pieces appear on the Reset program at New York Live Arts: Mirage and Forbidden. While both flaunt Khoury’s aesthetic, Mirage left me wanting more, and Forbidden went on too long. Mirage features faint narratives about the Middle East for a cast of five. Outside of Elisa Toro Franky, who smolders with steely resolve and expressive feet, the short piece could be developed for more character-rich investigations.
Forbidden commences with an indelible image of Khoury trying on a high-heeled bootie before unwrapping his keffiyeh. He toys with its ends as if they were locks of hair. Then he embarks upon an athletic solo of over-the-shoulder glances and explosive cabrioles. The music — throbbing percussion by Abdel Wahab and Hossam Shaker with sound design by Omar Dewachi — keeps the tempo cheetah-fast but denies the cathartic climax of Bolero.