Watching work at Judson Church

September 24, 2009

Movement Research at Judson church

This week I went to Judson Memorial Church for the first time.  I went to go to the “free, high visibility, low-tech weekly forum” that Movement Research hosts.  Three different choreographers presented short works-in-progress.

Judson church is famous for being home to many a postmodern dance maker, beginning around the time of Judson Dance Theater in the sixties.   I don’t know what the inside of the church looked like back then, but on Monday it was breathtaking.  Low-tech, high church, and perfect. 

The thing that is surprising to me about James McGinn’s piece, Estrellita, which I loved the most, is that it was the most formal of all the pieces presented that night.   I don’t always love formal.  It’s hard for me to write about, in fact, because I don’t have all the vocabulary of modern dance.  But I’ll try, because I loved the piece, and when I love something, if I can figure out why, it guides me in making my own work.

The piece was  a classic set up.  Female and male dancer (Maggie Cloud and James McGinn), dressed in evening attire, dancing with a very modern dance vocabulary, and heavily relying on unison.  Seen that before, yes.

And yet there were enough subtle nuances and unusual choices, (and exquisite dancing) that I was very taken aback by it.  After listening to a recorded composition by Manuel Ponce, where the dancers stood upstage in stillness, the piece was danced in silence.  But what followed wasn’t SILENCE.  The dancers created a driving beat that is still in my head three days later, just by walking the space side by side, marking the corners and turning in cycles.  That beat held strong throughout the entire piece, as did the fading memory of Ponce’s music,  as the choreography evolved into more complicated and technically difficult phrases.  The rhythm also held strong as the two dancers were separated by distance.  Turned away from one another, and in perfect unison, they drew their hands down their sternums, or turned a head from side to side.

There was a coldness, and distance choreographed into this pairing, they moved so perfectly together and yet seemed isolated from one another.  The more I think think about it, it didn’t rely on all those predictable hetero gender dynamics.   The pair was dancing together, but they were very much two individuals, dancing their asses off, alone. The dancers were flawlessly tuned into one another, and yet they felt worlds apart.

(image at top is Judson Church, not this Monday’s performance, but you can get a feel for the space from the photo.  Audience members sit around the floor, in a 3/4 round)

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