IMPRESSIONS: The People Movers' "Crawl" at Industry City Distillery

IMPRESSIONS: The People Movers' "Crawl" at Industry City Distillery
Theo Boguszewski

By Theo Boguszewski
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Published on April 4, 2017
Dante Brown | Warehouse Dance; Photo: Chelsea Robin Lee

March 17 and 18 at 8:00 p.m.

Industry City Distillery, Brooklyn

Choreography: Dante Brown/ Warehouse Dance and Brendan Drake

Photography by Nir Arieli

When you tell your small-town friends that you live in Brooklyn, chances are they imagine you spending your Saturday nights at something like CRAWL.

Kate Ladenheim’s The People Movers curates a series of neighborhood-based events that aim to change the experience of contemporary art. One-third performance, one-third gallery-opening, and one-third party, CRAWL gives emerging artists the opportunity to present work in a fun environment where they can take risks and engage with new communities.

The 7th Chapter of CRAWL takes place at Industry City Distillery, a craft vodka distillery with a top-floor tasting room. Industry City Distillery donates the space, and they provide snacks (empanadas) and beverages (delicious vodka-based cocktails) for purchase.

Windows on two sides line the space, offering a view over the East River. Maybe it’s the high ceilings and numerous windows, but the space illuminates the vastness of the outside world, and it feels like we are floating in a dynamic bubble.

Nir Arieli's photos on window panes of Industry City Distillery
Photography by Nir Arieli

A transparent room serves as a staging room for food and beverage service. It’s also bordered with windows that display the work of photographer Nir Arieli. His work features collaged portraits of male dancers with body parts layered on top of one another and juxtaposed with images of their eyes. The photos embody the plight of the male dancer: a confident exterior that conceals internal insecurity. Although Arieli is not a dancer, his work is fluid and humanizing.

CRAWL should start at 8, but when the hour rolls around, it shows no sign of beginning. Fifteen minutes later, I look around, perplexed. Fashionable, garrulous young people who seem to all know each other fill the space. They hug, shake hands, rub shoulders, and occasionally even burst into movement, shimmying and jiving to background beats. The room hums with such energy that I wonder if this is the performance? Ultimately, the show begins thirty-plus minutes later than its advertised start, but who cares. We’re having fun.

Dante Brown | Warehouse Dance’s Package is the first of two pieces. Beginning four years ago as an investigation of the term bromance and the norms of masculinity, the piece has since been reworked for a diverse cast of eight.

A dancer in a Donald Trump mask lunges wearing sneakers, khakis and a sweatshirt.
Dante Brown | Warehouse Dance in Package ; Photo: Chelsea Robin Lee

Grunts and stomps precede the dancers’ entrance; then, they swarm toward center wearing identical outfits: khaki pants, blue sweaters, and masks, all but one of which features the face of Donald Trump. They remove the masks but slide their white undershirts over their heads, so their faces remain obscured.

Brown’s movement is grounded and athletic, making frequent use of the floor as the dancers use momentum to swerve and slide. In intense moments of unison, it appears as if the dancers are trying to shake something out from inside them. Often, they point an accusatory finger outward and then curve it inward to self-direct.

The dancers shed their garments, leaving them neatly on the floor. All leave except for one woman, who contorts into spectacular backbends. Ending alone onstage, she may represent an unadorned, stripped-down identity.

Though Brown presents many strong ideas, some of his bold choices lack follow-through, and provoke questions. Why the Trumps masks? Why is one different? Why do they remove their clothes? CRAWL, though, provides a forum for trial and risk-taking, and New York City will likely experience Package again — perhaps repackaged with insights from this iteration.

Brendan Drake’s quirky and entertaining The Big Finish parodies the world of musical theatre. A series of skits unfolds in which the characters get so wrapped up in their lives as performers that they lose track of their sanity. Pure movement intersperses the humorous episodes.

A dancer smiles in a half split. Her arms stretch out in front of her in a
Brendan Drake’s The Big Finish; Photo: Chelsea Robin Lee

Drake teases out the highs and lows of a world centered on vastly inflated egos that contrasts with moments of crippling insecurity. Anyone who’s spent time around performers can relate to this exaggeration of personalities.

Characters “Adam” and “Quentin” perform vocal warm-ups and then read through a scene together, arguing over who gets to play which role. Adam is flamboyant and confident, while Quentin is nervous and apprehensive. “Shannon” enters to performing a slinky duet with Quentin; their wispy, subtle movements complement pleasantly.

One motif is a slow slide into a split, which pokes fun at a gesture that should be impressive. The piece ends with a big, campy dance scene, where the dancers pull out all the stops, spinning and twirling through epic layouts and slides. These moments point to Drake’s success — poignancy masked in humor.

A loose theme of unraveling identity runs throughout the evening. All the works expose how identity can be multi-layered and defy stereotypes. 

In a world where funding for the arts is being cut dramatically, CRAWL is a forward-thinking example of how business, art, and community can join forces to produce something bold and relevant.

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