AUDIENCE REVIEW: Glitter in the Gutter at Pangea's Extended Play
Kristina Berger & Catherine Cabeen
Friday, December 13, 2019
Pangea, an East Village restaurant-bar and alt-cabaret supper club with a tiny back room stage, may be the last place you’d expect to find Kristina Berger and Catherine Cabeen serving performative discourse on a Friday night. Aren’t both college dance professors aware that finals are quickly approaching? Shouldn’t they be sipping away on wine in their cozy abodes, writing each of their dance students a six-page detailed evaluation on their progress throughout the semester? And completing that 500th page of paperwork for tenure? Oh, and isn’t there that preparation for the holiday party a.k.a. final staff meeting of the semester in heels, arguably even more uncomfortable than sitting in the archaic desks in student classrooms?
Trading in the wine for an evening—and nearly two years—of poppin’ champagne on stage, the duo’s fourth public NYC performance of Glitter in the Gutter shares cunning choreographic craft, bubbling with satire and sincerity, as Berger and Cabeen navigate systematic abuses and the fumbling culture of the 21st century dance world. Through montages employing extreme personas—false eyelashes not forgotten—and spoken tribulations illuminating the ongoing strength involved in sustaining dance careers as female-identifying artists in the United States, Berger and Cabeen invoke enough laughter to make your gut wrench and ask why it hasn’t always been done this way.
Opening the evening was Cabeen’s First Things First, an intensive self-dialogue that ushers the audience on a comedic and analogic journey. Cabeen, founder of the interdisciplinary performance company Hyphen, ardent activist for equity and somatic education, and a former dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and member of Richard Move’s MoveOpolis!, performs verbose movement creations layered with wisdom, political engagement, and deeply researched intention. However, following a back injury two weeks before the show, Cabeen wrote and memorized an impromptu ode connecting high heels, feminist politics, and rousing frustrations with academia power in a stand-up like style (but better). Cabeen’s direct and sometimes flame-throwing speech is intensified by her fully-embodied conviction. She shares her experiences by blazing through silence, ensuring that she, and, perhaps, the many others who have relished in the “incredibly glamorous profession” of teaching and wearing high heels are heard without misunderstanding.
Berger, accompanied by jazz pianist Greg Woodsbie, shared Threshold, a dance solo that she began in 2018. Navigating a stage less than two yards in width, Berger’s movement sacrificed nothing. Rather, she radiated a richness and kindling warmth beyond the stage space that sidelined Pangea’s cheery wine and desserts. Berger articulates an impeccable sense of active shape, repetitive spiraling pathways that were continually renewed, and an integral connection to Woodsbie’s tender performance of Duke Ellington’s Single Pedal of a Rose. A principal dancer with Erick Hawkins Dance Company, former circus showgirl, and an international performer and modern dance educator, Berger simultaneously moves between and merges a multitude of movement vernaculars in a fluid and seamless coil. While Cabeen sparked a fire, Berger fed the flames wood. She welcomed a gentle burn, keeping the light steadily going, without letting in a rush of December cold.
The night concluded with Glitter in the Gutter, the ongoing collaborative creation by Berger and Cabeen. The two have been in conversation since 2014, discussing the frustrations of their lives as dance professionals and current full-time college educators. A shorter and less sparkly version of Glitter in the Gutter first premiered at The Theater for New York City in 2018 and has been slaying the back stage of Pangea since then. They began the work as two showgirl professionals, dissatisfied and exhausted with their jobs, even when they rise in the ranks to become decision makers for their troupe and host auditions for new dancers (It’s apparently grueling to have to say no to “inadequate” talent!).
Shedding their headpieces and with blistered feet in tow, the two decide to become independent artists (it’s a big deal). They discard the itchy sequins, throw on all black with loose warm up pants, and navigate the disgustingly high costs of studio space, including Central Park, that is even more inadequate than the showgirls they were auditioning. Playfully sharing the multi-faceted strains and misogynistic stress on creative process in the city, Berger and Cabeen fully plunge into the gutter they’ve been swimming in for years. Modifying their choreography to fit smaller spaces—certainly a double entendre in Pangea’s snug quarters—giving into the “less is more” mantra, and “on their hands and knees for their art form,” their drama is overwhelmingly familiar to performance artists and clear to the general audience. Yet, they enliven it by shifting beyond depression to inciting dialogue. They’re injured, broke, their once luscious and full bodied choreography that “conveys the passage of time” decays, and they face the disappointments of not receiving the awards and presenter notice that has come to demarcate “success” in the saturated NYC dance scene. They share what many dance professionals continue to experience, but amplify the call for change (NOW, PLEASE!) with piercing attention to the most prevalent and sometimes concealed dilemmas through collaboratively absurdist, embodied comedy.
While the duo’s struggle and pain seems eternal, so is their enduring friendship. As they enter full-time professor jobs with caveats draining the joys of benefits and what appeared to be creative perks, their laughter, support, and sheer strength blazes on; their continually developing witty and honest expertise is apparent in their solos and duet work itself. While the swanky back room of Pangea felt like the perfect place to toss glitter and pop their 1,000th bottle (don’t fact check me) of boos, Glitter in the Gutter has been and is ready to fire up the dance world in ways that haven’t ever been done before. Someone (not going to say please), get this duo a Bessie, an international tour with stadium-sized stages, and more champagne.
For more on the context and the artists of Glitter in the Gutter, please read Berger’s and Cabeen’s interview with Candace Thompson on DIYdancer: https://diydancer.com/2018/01/24/glitter-in-the-gutter-catherine-cabeen-and-kristina-berger-make-a-new-duet/.
Photo provided by Kristina Berger and Catherine Cabeen, taken by Ira Langarten