AUDIENCE REVIEW: Buglisi Dance Theatre presents The Threads Project #1 "Universal Dialogues"
Buglisi Dance Theatre
June 22-23, 2022
On June 22, 2022, I attended a breathtaking performance of The Threads Project #1 "Universal Dialogues" in New York City. The company is under the artistic direction of Jacqulyn Buglisi, who is the choreographer of raw and moving company Buglisi Dance Theatre, acclaimed for presenting "multicultural dance on themes of the human condition that expose social and environmental injustices and reveal the heroic spirit, strengths and vulnerabilities of humanity." Once again, the presentation proved that BDT is a company to watch.
The performance was presented in NYC's Chelsea Factory, a space which exists to provide strong supportive partnerships, and to give a transformative experience for both New York City artists and audiences. The long-term home of world renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, the venue was originally turned into a four-year pop-up space as a response to "post Pandemic needs." For the first time in its storied history which dates back to 1914, it is now for public space in the community. With a 350-seat capacity, it is an ideal space for intimate performances and serves BDT well.
A quote in the program prepares the audience for the work: "Let everything happen to you: beauty & terror. Just keep going." — Rilke
Jacqulyn Buglisi, in addition to her role as artistic director, is a choreographer, educator and advocate. Her career, which spans five decades, has encompassed utilizing literature, poetry, and heroic archetype. Ms. Buglisi co-founded BDT in 1993 following an illustrious career as a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Her multi-layered dance works based on socially relevant global issues reveal the "visceral strengths, humor and exquisite vulnerabilities of the individual."
Along with Terese Capucilli, who has collaborated with BDT over a span of 30 years, they have amassed "powerfully resonating work delving profoundly into every aspect of the human condition." Since BDT's inception in 2011, Capucilli has performed as the "bell master" in Buglisi's annual "Table of Silence Project." This piece was a response to the "mourning & healing needed following 9/11."
Both Buglisi and Capucilli have the distinction of being some of the last generations of dancers to work directly with Martha Graham. Together, they have continued to collaborate on the "Table" and now "Threads," which are clearly going to be enduring dance works.
Buglisi believes that there is a "gravitational awakening as our beautiful planet and societal order are unraveling." She states that this is "a time to thread new stories of courage and hope."
The first of the two-year project, "Universal Dialogues" draws inspiration from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document was written under Eleanor Roosevelt proclaiming that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights [...] in a Spirit of Community."
Buglisi conceived, directed and choreographed a 60-minute work with 15 scenes in 4 episodes for her 16 dancers with 8 collaborating choreographers – Alexander Anderson, Jennifer Archibald, Sidra Bell, PeiJu Chien-Pott, Daniel Fetecua, Loni Landon, Jesse Obremski, Blakeley White-McGuire - the phenomenal work "weaves their unique poetic voices, expressing and revealing their strengths and vulnerabilities of what makes them human."
Ms. Buglisi spoke pearls of wisdom to me when she recounted her over 100 works. I could quote her endlessly, but I hope that by sharing the words of two of her dancers and Ms. Capucilli, the reader is able to absorb some of her gifts.
I would like to share some excerpts from interviews I conducted via a three-way call with two of BDT's extraordinary dancers (they were all spectacular). I did have the pleasure of meeting these two and chatting briefly in person at a reception following the performance.
When I conducted the phone interviews, I posed three questions to each of them. As we were on the call, conversations overlapped and I would like to share some key points.
The dancers were Kate Reyes and Jai Perez, both young dancers in their first season with BDT and with immensely promising futures. Kate, an alumna of Fiorello H. LaGuardia HS and Marymount Manhattan College where she graduated with a BFA in Dance, was recently invited to join the Martha Graham Dance Company. In seeing her in this piece, it is evident why. Jai is a Senior at the Conservatory of Dance at SUNY Purchase where he will receive his BFA.
In terms of their initial involvement with BDT and "Threads," Kate participated in what Buglisi refers to as an "incubation" conducted at City Center here in NYC. At the time, she was a sophomore at Marymount.
Jai stated that fellow "Threads" dancer, Isabella Pagano, and his classmate from SUNY Purchase, reached out to him. This is his first professional performing experience. After a workshop at the Martha Graham school, where Buglisi is on faculty, Jai says he "felt Jacqulyn’s passion and that made a connection for me." I will say that this clearly translates to his performance in the piece.
Both dancers spoke in mutual terms about their experiences working with BDT, Buglisi and Capucilli. There was an acknowledgement and awareness of the multi artistic collaboration in every aspect of the journey. Kate quoted them saying, "There are very relevant things in how we connect." Diversity was such a key element and that is clear in looking at the cast. Buglisi reiterated that as they came back into the studio following the height of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, working on this piece was the "first time the dancers had touched and physically interacted in two years."
Both dancers remarked on the clearly endearing friendship between Jacqulyn and Terese. There is definitely a strong work ethic that they share with each other and the dancers, but when there is a break, the camaraderie and laughter ensue.
Jai eloquently articulated that "using Graham technique informs a motive and a narrative." He continued by saying that, "Jacqulyn has a very clear vision which is supported by Terese. It is stressed by both that nothing is arbitrary, even the simplest cross of the stage."
Kate said that the most challenging thing about the piece for her is that there were "very specific ways of executing everything." She found physicalizing what Jackie wanted frustrating at times. Both agreed that Terese would come in and clarify what was needed. It seems that this was the perfect collaboration.
Buglisi had specific notes for Jai about being more grounded. Kate quoted her as saying that the dancers should "feel the magna from the earth." Blakely White-McGuire (Artistic Collaborator/Collaborating Choreographer/Principal Dancer) who appeared magnificently in this production, encouraged Jai to "feel the energy from the floor." He recounted a moment in the piece, which I recall vividly, where most of the dancers lay on the floor stage left. For Jai, this was a shift that enabled him to feel the motif of "experiencing everyone's humanity." I found this to be very deeply moving thoughts expressed by a 20-year old dancer! Obviously, Jacqulyn, Terese, and his other colleagues had a profound affect.
I greatly appreciate the time, energy and thought that these dancers put into our talk.
As an audience member, these are some moments that stood out for me in the one-hour piece with no intermission. The choice to have unobstructed wing space created a piece where all of the dancers were visible at all times. This was phenomenally powerful.
Two performers and moments in the immersive piece — complete with audio and visual images — that resonated with me were of the exquisitely beautiful Jessica Sgambelluri. Seated stage right and leaning in, she was "completely in the moment" while the other dancers were moving _ her focus supported the others.
Ben Schultz, a 13-year member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, was seated upstage left with his back to the audience, and occasionally glanced over his right shoulder with a slight twist from his hip, focusing on the center stage. I couldn't help but notice him.
Both dancers were captivating when dancing fully, yet also in their moments of stillness.
The following quote by Terese Capucilli is a reflection of working on The Threads Project #1, " Universal Dialogues":
"We are all so beautifully connected in so many ways. Threads that bind, voices from generations past that guide us. Universal dialogues that we all speak in our own ways, of our own cultures, from our hearts. What we fail to do as humans is recognize the beauty of these common voices that drive us and a respect for the "dialogues" and natural rights of others. Seeing oneself in others is one of the most selfless human acts. "Universal Dialogues" speaks to the common rights every individual deserves, to the nature of perseverance and it is filled with hope and determination. Sitting in support alongside Jacqulyn as she brings dancers to a common voice and seeing her work come alive through the vast challenges of our time, is one of the greatest privileges I have known."
This performance by BDT leaves one in anticipation of what will come next. Do take note that "Table of Silence Project" will be returning live and virtually to Lincoln Center Plaza on September 11, 2022.
Written by Amy Meisner-Threet, SAGAFTRA, NYPL Jerrome Robbins Division, MSW
Former dancer with AA lll inaugural cast member of Mr. Ailey's "MEMORIA"
Current member of Heidi Latsky Dance
Photo by Kristin Lodoen Linder