IMPRESSIONS: Konverjdans: III at The Actors Fund Arts Center
June 1, 2019
Choreography: Caili Quan; Tiffany Mangualbnan; Amy Saunder
Music: Likho Duo; The Real Mike Wilson; Christian Lee; Ian Chang
Lighting Design: Conor Mulligan
At The Actors Fund Arts Center’s Mark O’Donnell Theater, performers casually greet their guests as sultry jazz music wafts through the air. Clad in bright corals and vibrant prints, the dancers move in and out of stretches and foot articulations as they talk, laugh, and hug. While two musicians hunkered in a corner evoke a street festival in New Orleans on a hot summer night, the event is actually Konverjdans: III.
Konverjdans is a Brooklyn-based company celebrating its third year of dance-making. Caili Quan of BalletX along with Konverjdans’ Tiffany Mangulabnan and Amy Saunder, who share the role of artistic director along with Jordan Miller, present three distinct yet complementary works characterized by intricate and dynamic movement phrases.
The party continues as the performance begins. Rosé then Red, choreographed by Quan, is a buoyant ballet for five imbued with romance and humor. Quirky hip circles, provocative shoulder rolls, and sexy walks en pointe set the scene for a fun-filled féte. Sinuous and dazzlingly precise, Peter Cheng persuades the lithe Lukasz Zieba to stay and attract a mate. With salsa-shifting hips and languid head rolls, the men’s flirtations give way to three women and their enticing charms.
When the cast pretends to drop acid, gooey and off-balance movements contrast between real and distorted time. Spider-like fingers crawl through the air, and sudden shifts between swiftness and lethargy draw us into their trip. As they come down, Saunder’s juicy, sensual solo relishes in the experience as Cheng and Miller revisit an awkward coupling. Drunk and happy, arms tossed around each other, they smile as they leave the party.
Mangulabnan’s Nobody Knows Our Names reflects on the struggle of artists to maintain their integrity and identity. Set to text by James Baldwin read over the music of The Real Mike Wilson with live percussion by Christian Lee, six dancers both assert and question themselves. Expanding and recoiling, solos are joined by duets and trios in a show of solidarity before dissolving again into private explorations. Costumes of muted grey-blue add to the feel of quiet reflection, and the starkly lit stage sets a somber mood.
The theme of joining and leaving persists as the dancers orbit, coming closer and closer to meaning with each spiraling torso or imploring leg extension, but never quite reaching it. With the gentle touch of a friend, Zieba joins Cortney Key in a supportive duet that says, Here I am. I see you. I understand. Arachnid unison dancing leaves each performer bound by a shared quest and yet detached.
In Saunder’s Quantum Entanglement, the ensemble moves like creatures caught between heaven and earth. Through undulating torsos and coiling arms, they delve into the negative space between each other, searching for other dimensions. As a strobe light pulses and a column of smoke emerges, the cast reaches into the vortex with trepidation. With a curling finger, a splayed palm, and an arching neck, they cautiously enter this new world and join together, walking into the darkness with quiet confidence.
Throughout this evening of superb dancing, not one of the six performers stands out above the others. Rather, each of them brings a distinct beauty and singular prowess. Mangulabnan attacks space like a lioness hunting her prey. Miller brings meticulous attention to even the smallest gesture of her wrist. Saunder delights with grounded abandon while Zieba’s serpentine specificity mesmerizes and Cheng enthralls with supple flow. Key adds passionate intensity with both facial expression and bodily gesture.