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IMPRESSIONS: cullen+them in "forever for now" at New York Live Arts

IMPRESSIONS: cullen+them in "forever for now" at New York Live Arts
Cecly Placenti

By Cecly Placenti
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Published on June 7, 2022
cullen+them Young Dance Collective; Photo: Danica Paulos

May 13, 2022

Artistic Director: Hannah Cullen
Created and performed by: Liam Mackenzie, Mieke Matteson, Nyah Raposo, Pilot Roberts, Beatrice White
Lighting Design: Christopher Theilking
Set and Costume Design: Victors Jeffreye II
Music and Sound Design by: Ian Noel and Hannah Cullen


Generation Z is often stereotyped as tech-addicted, anti-social and self-absorbed. In an evening that melds narrative and movement into reflection, five teenage dancers challenge those assumptions. forever for now, a world premiere created and performed by Young Dance Collective, tackles a phenomenon even the oldest of us can’t explain —love. The show presents this upcoming generation of young people as authentic, courageous, and unabashedly real.


a long line of teen dancers, all leaning on a bent leg with arms extended and hands folded together.
cullen+them's YDC; Photo: Danica Paulos

cullen+them, an intergenerational performing arts organization led by artistic director, Hannah Cullen, seeks to foster the growth of individuals who think critically about the world. To that end, Cullen developed her youth ensemble in 2001. Now in its second generation, YDC is entirely devoted to the artistic growth of its members. Dancers Liam Mackenzie, Mieke Matteson, Nyah Raposo, Pilor Roberts and Beatrice White have been exploring, creating, and performing together for the past eight years.  forever for now is the culmination of their time together.

 And they're not going quietly!

The company sings, speaks, shouts, and whispers stories of infatuation, rejection, excitement and confusion. Through movement vignettes and readings from their journals, they touch on many facets of love — familial, self-love, the love between friends. One fixed definition becomes increasingly difficult to pin down.

a quartet of teens huddle together facing different directions. they wear white button down shirts and  black pants. Red journals surround them on the floor and silver mylar balloons float above.
cullen+them's YDC; Photo :Danica Paulos

Romantic love proves the most elusive as the dancers pose questions to both themselves and the world around them. “When there are so many shapes and shades for that one-true-emotion to land on, how do we know when we’ve got it?” “Why just one word for something so complex?” forever for now is less about answering those questions than it is about illustrating the messy, labyrinthine search for an elusive experience.

While the choreography may not be as polished as New York audiences have come to expect, it is not simple or boring.  Nervous twitching peppers fluid floor work. Skillfully controlled off-balance movements highlight the dancers’ training, while blurring the line between adolescent and adult experiences.

Teenage dancers today are often driven to excel at technique above all else. These five young artists show more depth. Talented movers, they exhibit maturity in their choreographic choices, placing emphasis on meaning and communication over tricks and steps. During a high school party scene, dancers dive over each other, meeting and intertwining only to push away. A couple mingles on the couch, awkwardly attempting their first embrace, giving their weight freely to each other in a playful duet. When the dancing becomes more violent —punching, kicking, performers pulling at their bodies as if trying to remove an unseen shackle—  we feel their angst and heartbreak, and empathize.

a couple wearing whit and black patterend outfits embrace in a dance duet
cullen+them's YDC; Photo : Danica Paulos

Haven’t we all been the star struck girl, the jilted boy, confused by our feelings and inept in our encounters?

Underneath shimmering silver sculptures that look like clouds, their quest develops. The audience is right there with them as the dancers lift and shift each other to new places, illustrating the pliable, evolving nature of understanding. Dream-like solo moments melt back into unison dancing reminding us that while we’re all on our own journeys, we always learn in relationship to one another. As the crowd rises in a standing ovation at the close of the evening, I am reminded of the catharsis that community offers.  

the stage shimmers as 5 dancers are sprawled out on folding chairs ... everyone is wearing white tight tops and tulle skirts a center couple holds hands
cullen+them's YDC; Photo :Danica Paulos

There is an immediacy to forever for now, an eagerness to understand that is at once youthful and mature. It captures the vitality of youth and provides a platform for the upcoming generation to envision their future through artistic dialogue.

Holding pages torn from their notebooks, the performers address the audience one final time “For all the ways we’re confounded by love, there’s one thing we know to be true: in the unpredictability of life, nothing is permanent. And whether our love changes in the morning, for right now, it’s everything.”

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