March 21, 2017
If campy host antics such as a hijacked opening number, an audience Instagram contest encouraging cell phone usage during a performance to win free alcohol, and rotating outfits referencing the numbers between which the changes are dispersed are to your enjoyment, Y Cabaret is for you. However, if serious modern dance, too, be up your alley, you may very well enjoy the show as well.
Bearded Ladies Productions presents, at the 14th Street Y, a periodic program that takes the form of the cabaret, historically shaped by musical theatre types, and gives it to the contemporary dance world for an evening that does away with the community’s usual performative notions of offering and sharing, and demands the downtown dance world to show off a bit.
OR, it makes the community’s small companies’ cries for audiences beyond friends of the artists more obvious than they already are. What does it mean when a full and enthusiastic dance audience is achieved when lured by social media prowess and libations that congratulate audience members and distract from what, at March’s Y Cabaret, was a collection of largely serious pieces that, just as anachronistically as host Clinton Edwards lip syncing “All That Jazz,” tore the evening into a jarring back and forth of earnestness framed by frivolity?
The pattern was not universal. The most successful pieces were those that, in understanding the needs of the casual setting, supplied acts with just enough bite to acknowledge the stakes not being aesthetic achievement, but thoughtful entertainment. Michaela Catherine McGowan opened with a solo not to Top 40 banality, but somewhat-mainstream-indie-rock-feel-good crooner Bon Iver as she cycled between vulnerable prostration, precarious balances, and floor-bound feats of vibrant strength. Chuck Wilt’s UNA Projects stuck true to their cryptic funk, with simple bits to the Velvet Underground and a Morricone film score – mirrored unison, an extended piggyback ride, and a solo that fragmented what would have been flowed movement into snapshots.
Other pieces were perhaps well made or executed, but suffered from a dissonance with the setting’s purpose. Britney Kerr performed a solo by Mike Esperanza, taking off an overcoat as she entered to reveal the standard flesh-toned dance underwear that denotes the edge of family-friendly vulnerability. She then stumbled about dramatically with impressive leg extensions to atmospheric music, succeeding for the wrong reasons – the incidental sensuality of an undulating naked body, asking no heed be paid to whatever message may be embedded. Similarly, Wesley Ensminger strutted into the space in heels, which were taken off to do a dance banking on idle props to color a piece, which already succeeded at being nice to look at, as a polemic on queerness.
Pieces that failed to resonate altogether disagreed with the space itself, treating an audience closely dispersed in the round as a proscenium. Woman, perfect for the program in its fierce riffing on the notion of the “nasty woman” that has remained a charged political sentiment in all demographics, fell flat with flashy movements frontally faced executed with a focus that looked to the nonexistent balcony.
Michiyaya Dance was the only group to achieve both the right aesthetic for the setting and audience engagement, entering from the crowd futzing with people who would allow it. Belinda Adam portrayed a mad dance conductor, infecting the rest of the cast with germs of movement, allowing her to direct the audience into clapping more loudly than they might have on their own.
Dances tend to fall into three camps of intention: theatrically oriented, visually formalistic, and purely entertaining. The pitfall of March’s Y Cabaret was dance that established itself as theatrically oriented by giving a sense of character, but then developed in visually formalistic ways that stunted the humans in the space. The cabaret minimizes the things presented in it by collecting them and submitting them to unsentimental variety show flow, and few of these pieces were willing to humble themselves as such, speaking ultimately to the burning desire of artists for any opportunity to show their work amidst an innovative, but oversaturated community.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews