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AUDIENCE REVIEW: GAP Presents! The Nadine Animato Theatre Dance Company
May 22nd, 2014
Dance Magazine recently asked the question: Does virtuosity underpin or undermine a 21st-century approach to ballet? I frequently wonder the same thing about contemporary choreography. As a dancer I happen to have been born with certain extreme attributes and abilities. These abilities definitely influence my choreography and as a result lead me to creating more 'tricked out' choreography than 'quality' or 'good' choreography. (I define 'good' and quality choreography' as that which communicates. I define 'tricked out' or even 'bad' choreography as 'look at what I can do... over and over again'.) With that in mind I begin my review of Nadine Animato Theatre Dance Company's performance from this evening at The Green Building (presented by Gowanus Art + Production).
Led by Artistic Director/Choreographer, Nadine Bommer, Nadine Animato Theatre Dance Companyoffered three 20 minute long excerpts from three disparate full length pieces.
The technique developed by Bommer (though it is more akin to a style wherein pantomime, common place actions, and classical dance vocabulary are linked and animated to tell a story) is called animato. The four performers, all brilliant, in this concert (Daniel Royzman, Galy Cohen, Maor Shiry, and Safriel Sapir) each possess a virtuosic physical range and mastery of numerous styles which served their characterizations and story telling to the extreme. Extreme is indeed the word, yet what could have quickly devolved into a series of one note shenanigans proved poignant by the depth and evolution of interactions and commitment to character that each performer displayed. On stage subtlety can easily fall flat; conversely loud registers as loud but with these dancers what we would think of as fortississimo was quickly rendered mute by their supersonic performance range and physical ability. The only dancers with greater range are of the Ailey company.
These dancers have all trained with Bommer since childhood, as clearly evidenced by their bravery and comfort with executing what was asked of them (be it fondling one another, walking the runway as a dog, or portraying dolls come to life at a movie theatre). Frequently while watching these dancers as they balanced on full releve while popping and locking, wiggled around like a bunch of wild wet noodles, or lashed their limbs about in controlled yet at seemingly impossible angles, I thought I was watching a cartoon come to life. It is this cartoon-like quality which gives Bommer's work its extremity. And yet at no point did I think of these dancers as anything but fully fleshed human beings. In spite of their virtuosity, the characters, animated as they may have been, inspired me to lean forward and breathe more deeply than I am accustomed to doing at a live dance performance.
The final selection of the evening, 'Manimation', followed interactions between a waiter, a customer, the proprietor of a cafe, and his wife as the cafe opened for the day. Midway through the piece in a tour de force sequence, the waiter and proprietor engaged in a knock down full on brawl rendered at half the speed of life slow motion. The meaning of slow motion is lost on one until one witnesses Bommer's spectacular cast translate moving in tandem as they fall, roll, duck, punch, and lift one another as an assembly line of physical comedy that would have wowed Mack Sennett. (I am willing to swear that even the skirt of the proprietor's wife was captured at reduced speed during this sequence!) This for me is dance theatre at its best. Kitchen sink drama that is easy to follow at every turn yet elevated through physical story telling and exaggerated gestures so that no meaning is lost and so that an audience of any age, and most impressively, any culture can follow.
Bommer is a choreographer with as wide a palette as Wayne McGregor and with as much of an imagination as Mats Ek. Where she proves the stronger choreographer, to my mind, is in her commitment to accessibility. Unlike McGregor, her work is about actual living and breathing people. Even though they were rendered in a cartoonish manner, I found these characters entrancing in their exactitude and specificity. Unlike Eks, Bommer is less interested in being abstract or provocative, and is more of the mind that she wants to sample the full range of the human condition. (And yet she is incredibly provocative even though no baby ends up in an oven.) Sheer pathos was on display especially when the dancers (who I keeping thinking of as sui generis characters who I might bump into on my way to the subway) found their way to dancing in unison. Though still character-driven, I saw in this unison dancing what bound these dancers together, that is to say the invented culture for each dance was shown to be real. These characters, though idiosyncratic, breathed the same air, drank the same water, and grew up in the same locale. Even on a nearly bare stage with minimum props the sense of verisimilitude was ever present. Moments of repetition, as in the excerpt from 'American Cinema', highlighted the wonder and shock of fervor. Where one is admonished another goes on to admonish others to avoid embarrassment. It's a vicious cycle. Swifter than one could expect, the dancers became caught in a pattern of shushing each other- followed by immediate quiet shock at the effect. It hurts to be chastised even when you are a doll brought to life. It is this display of the human condition at every moment which elevates Bommer's work above piquant and into the transcendent. Clearly, for Bommer, virtuosity does NOT undermine choreography.
It was announced during the curtain speech by Gowanus Art + Production Curator/Producer, Sarah Brown, that Bommer and her family will be relocating to New York later this year. It would be wise to keep an eye out for this master choreographer. She will be transforming the NYC dance-scape before we know it, and none too soon. Brava.
-Juan Michael Porter II