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IMPRESSIONS: Women In Motion — Rachel Cohen and Laurie Berg

IMPRESSIONS: Women In Motion — Rachel Cohen and Laurie Berg
Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
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Published on November 20, 2012

IMPRESSIONS: Women in Motion

Manhattan Theatre Source presents Estrogenius 2012

A Celebration of Female Voices


TBG Theatre 312 West 36th Street

Performances November 14th and 17th, 2012

Featured Choreographers:

Laurie Berg and Rachel Cohen

November 21, 2012


Bolder and Clearer (for the girls)

Christine Jowers for The Dance Enthusiast

Founded by choreographer Melissa Riker, Women in Motion presents and commissions new works from female choreographers as part of the annual, multi-disciplinary Estrogenius Festival. In the coming year, Ms. Riker and her fellow producers are interested in holding even more events in support of women dance artists, among them, choreographic salons, where feedback can be given and a larger, supportive community for women’s work can be developed.
Contemporary dance began with the work of women pioneers who revolted against societal norms to boldly create. Today, women choreographers names that are synonymous with dance,even among non-dancers, are Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham - problem is they are dead and not creating anymore. It has been a long while since a woman choreographer has dominated the world scene.  At one time Twyla Tharp? Pina Bausch, maybe? Sadly Bausch, also recently died.   
While dancers continue to revere dynamic women who are, fortunately, alive and creating: Trisha Brown, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Elizabeth Streb to name a few. Women still aren’t front and center of the field. Why? Can the male status quo be challenged?  Who are the new generation of female choreographic leaders? How can the artistic community foster their work? Can a contemporary woman choreographer become a household name in our lifetime?
Dance artists often cite the lack of consistent rehearsal space as an impediment to their progress. It's true. Choreographers require space and time to create. But the lack of opportunities to perform regularly also affects the quality of choreography and experimentation in the work we see. There is nothing like a series of performances to inform an artist and hone their craft. Performance opportunities especially in multi-arts festivals that bring new audiences to dance are essential. Much is hoped for Estrogenius’ s future growth. It’s an ambitious and worthy project.
Laurie Berg and Rachel Cohen, the two artists featured this year, presented dance that can challenge the status quo - if only the work can become bolder and clearer in purpose.     
I-Would Choreography by Rachel Cohen ;Photo ©Laura Silleras
Cohen has been working in New York City for over ten years creating movement pieces brimming with imagination, originality, and glorious debris. She covers her stages and dancers with clay, flour, cardboard, papier-mâché, and game boards.
Cohen sees the world as an elaborate series of tales and adventures where visual art, literature, music, theater and movement meld. She intrigues and piques our curiosity even as she and her dancers fall apart amidst the squalor on stage.  Falling apart is a lot of the fun in Cohen’s newest work I –Would, a title that refers tongue in cheek to the building material that predominates the piece.
The stage is filled with wooden props, some hanging on a garment rack - outfits for an elaborate fashion show at Gheppeto’s workshop - and other pieces discharged randomly on the floor. Imagine a cubist painting exploded.
I-Would Choreography by Rachel Cohen ;Photo ©Laura Silleras

Cohen sits on an extravagant wooden get-up that suggests a throne. She sports a homemade crown with spokes that look like the handles of mixing spoons – sublime and ridiculous. And, she has something to tell us. She points one index finger straight to the sky and leans forward as her mouth forms a large o-shape. Just as we anticipate her
first word we notice that her “royal” seat is fully slanted towards the floor and, of course, she slips off it. We chuckle.
Pint-sized replicas of herself, flank this king. Little people in paper crowns, whose stature is petite because they waddle in on the balls of their feet with their butts attached to their heels. It’s hilarious to see the teeny troop imitate her, topple, tease and follow her. To witness the whole group, King (and mini-kings) carrying large wooden pillars that serve at once as swords for battle and in another glance as horses on which they gallop off, delights.
There are many humorous, magical moments in Cohen’s choreography to be appreciated, as well as moments that we know we “should” laugh at and revel in, but somehow can’t. We simply don’t know what to pay attention to.  
Although we may notice Gheppeto, Pinocchio, Don Quixote, Jesus, the son of the carpenter Joseph, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Monty Python’s knights (that go nih) in search of the holy grail, (wow). The images often happen too close together or become convoluted betwixt beams. It becomes difficult then to savor them.  
I-Would Choreography by Rachel Cohen ;Photo ©Laura Silleras

Comedy, reacting to and extracting the most honestly funny moments from situations, is especially difficult and Cohen’s apparently whimsical, but very sophisticated ideas, call for expert timing and crystal clear transitions.  I-Would, with the benefit of more performances, can become clearer- its wonder more deeply felt.
Permission to Fail presented by Laurie Berg and created and performed by Berg and Bessie McDonough-Thayer is polar opposite to I- Would. No fanciful props here. Instead, the women cover their bottoms with dark sweatpants and their tops with black hoodies worn wrong -way -round (so that their faces are covered by dark cloth).
Laurie Berg and Bessie McDonough-Thayer  in Permission to Fail :Photo © Ileany Fields
The piece begins in black with the old 1970’s Coca-Cola theme song playing along in the background as the two unidentifiable masked figures sit on the floor staring upwards at the backstage wall.
Immediately a sense that something dark will come pervades. The mood is at once sinister and innocent. The skipping flower child’s tune, “ I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…” repeating praises of unification under Coca-Cola contrasted with the two characters in black who could be either prisoners, terrorists or both, chills. What are these artists trying to say? The simple set up is brilliant. We are immediately wrapped up in the piece  with no “action” having taken place.
Laurie Berg and Bessie McDonough-Thayer  in Permission to Fail :Photo © Ileany Fields
Yet, as it happens, Berg and McDonough-Thayer don’t seem to realize what they have started and instead of using the magic at their finger tips to create a political statement or a big statement of any sort, their duet moves along as a cute, nicely done piece for two shrouded figures whose feet and hands act as puppets. They don’t do a bad job of it  either.  Their unison foot and hand work and their responses to one another are fun and entertaining.
Still, if you are going to ask for permission to fail, it seems a bigger risk could be taken or a louder statement made.


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