IMPRESSIONS: Janis Brenner and Guest Artists in "MOMENTUM" at Loy Luo's Art Gallery
Curator: Janis Brenner
Choreographers: Kyla Barkin and Aaron Selissen, Janis Brenner, and Savannah Ross
Music: Jerome Begin, Bjork, David Lang, Joni Mitchell, Meredith Monk, Zac Selissen, and Tosca
Performers: Kyla Barkin, Janis Brenner, Aaron Selissen, Esme Boyce, Kara Chan, Anna Chin, Allison Easter, Katie Geissinger, Mary Lynn Gonsorçik, and Angelina Lenzer
Visual Artists: Janis Brenner, Whitney Browne, and Lisa Giobbi
Janis Brenner is a tough cookie. Despite having suffered multiple head traumas (accidents that might have left her cockeyed), the choreographer’s ability to sing, kvetch, and stage dances remains unimpaired. Brenner did all those things, on May 26, as part of her salon series entitled MOMENTUM at the L-Private Gallery in Chinatown. The program featured a combination of imaginative dances and delightful vocalise, in a setting filled with visual art and sculpture.
Loy Luo’s art gallery offers limited room, but the wonderfully adaptable dancers make sure the performance space never looks cramped. Brenner herself requires little more than a music stand, an easel, and a chair to perform the autobiographical Concussion Aria. Here she sings of the hurts and indignities that Life has inflicted on her over the years. Meanwhile, an assistant, Mary Lynn Gonsorçik, changes pictures on the easel. The photos illustrate a high-kicking dance ironically called Proximities, in which Brenner’s partner accidentally clobbered her (oops), and they include a portrait of the late Murray Louis, who told her to apply a metal teaspoon to the rising welt. She didn’t believe the teaspoon would help, but dutifully applied it anyway. “I always did what Murray said,” Brenner recalls. She was 27 years old, at the time.
Accompanying her recital with operatic, can-you-believe-it gestures, Brenner leads us down a timeline of concussive mishaps. She recalls being dropped head-first onto a sharp coffee table, crawling out of a wrecked tour bus, being stunned by falling concrete, and colliding with a wall. Ouch! Yet, waving aside the priest who once tried to offer her last rites, Brenner kept dancing. Now she’s a proud survivor, wearing her glittering necklace as if it were a prize; and the assistant is there if, God forbid, Brenner should need to be carried to the hospital.
The drama is purely physical in the other parts of the program, starting with Accidental Suite, a duet performed and choreographed by Kyla Barkin and Aaron Selissen. A dance of long gestures and deep contractions, this piece also features circular patterns, including a spinning lift in which Barkin rises from a horizontal to a sitting position. She takes charge of the relationship, learning to ride Selissen coolly; and when they finally break apart, she leaves him prostrate.
Although Brenner’s Where-How-Why Trilogy has no plot, it has characters who define themselves with movement. Flexible and wiry, Esme Boyce stretches, balances, and tilts. The dance’s geometry acquires an emotional tinge when Boyce slowly claws the air, or opens her mouth in a silent cry. Kara Chan’s solo is more passionate, with rushing energy and violent moves that leave her broken-armed. Yet here, too, the choreography has built-in contrasts, as Chan frames her face with her hands, and pauses to gaze quizzically at the audience. Barkin is the meditative one. Reclining against the other two, as if in bed, she rises to explore the space and examine herself, hastily touching her throat and chest with an expression of alarm. Adopting a sinuous curve, and making snaky gestures, Barkin peers at the world from odd angles.
Fledgling dancemaker Savannah Ross contributed the duet We Connect, in which jagged, daredevil moves interrupt the smooth flow of energy. Dancers Anna Chin and Angelina Lenzer pump their shoulders, spin, and dive. They dance in parallel, and support each other in leaps. Unfazed, they leave us with a glance of cool defiance.
Singer Katie Geissinger brings a warm intonation and playful intrigue to her rendition of “Wa-lei-oh,” from Meredith Monk’s Songs from the Hill. This piece takes us into a wordless pre-history, a time when the world was fresh and our ancestors enjoyed a direct connection with nature. The singer departs gleefully from strings of nonsense syllables, her voice humming and sliding, chirping and piping; and we follow her gladly through a forest of vocal adventures.
Monk’s Quarry Weave similarly conjures a natural landscape. Performed by Geissinger, Brenner, and special guest Allison Easter, the melody flows like a mighty river that splits into different channels. The sound grows nasal and brackish, and then it rises and clears, blowing like an icy wind. Even divorced from Quarry’s original scenario, this music has the power to purify.