Dance

"I Clipped Your Wing" tells the story of lost innocence. Photo by Ralph Stewart
"I Clipped Your Wing" tells the story of lost innocence. Photos by Ralph Stewart

A profound impact

By Brooks Robards - September 14, 2006

The greatest gift one can give an artist is space to create. Not simply a building, but the freedom to focus on the art of creation. The Bessie Schonberg Residency at the Yard in Chilmark offers just such a gift to a select few each year. Last weekend the choreographers and dancers, recipients of the coveted residencies, performed the pieces created during their time at the Chilmark enclave.

Before the performances, artistic director Lois Welk gave a pre-concert talk. "The Bessie Schonberg Residency is absolutely my favorite program," she said. "The impact on the artist's career is profound." The audience members were primed for a unique dance experience, and they were not disappointed.

Choreographer Helen Simoneau's piece, "Spaces Between," opened the concert. The five dancers - Megan Jupin, Stacy Martorana, Philip Montana, Storme Sundberg, and Matt Sweeney - were dressed almost alike in gray pants and black tops with heavy-looking black shoes. The music was accented by the dancer's footfall. At the beginning the sound was like water dripping and progressed to a machine droning, thanks to bass string instruments.

The five dancers captured space with their arms and gained strength. Repeated actions such as a pendulum swinging brought to mind a machine, one action setting off another, and another, in constant, measured movement. The concept and the execution were very strong.

"Lunatics," choreographed by Charlotte Griffin. Photo by Ralph Stewart
An athletic and very sensual "Lunatics," choreographed by Charlotte Griffin.

"Lunatics" set two dancers to the music of "Up Stepped the Moon" by George Williams, performed by Gene Krupa and the Harry James Orchestra, choreographed by Charlotte Griffin. The two lovers, danced by Matt Sweeney and Gena Mann (on Friday evening), navigated the tricky waters of a relationship with style. The short dance was a nice addition to the evening.

An edgy dance, "I Clipped Your Wings," is part of a larger work by choreographer Heather Harrington. With the innocence of children the three dancers - Hope Davis, Megan Jupin, and Storme Sundberg - began to play. Soon the cruelty started to show and a power struggle became apparent. Who is the leader? Who follows? An increasingly uncomfortable audience watched as lessons were taught and learned. The powerful dance left many questions in the air. The audience loved it and wanted to see more.

In the darkness that preceded the third dance, the sound of deep breathing could be heard from the stage. The music was heavy percussion, composed by John Luther Adams and performed by Steven Schick. Three dancers - Stacy Martorana, Philip Montana, and Daryl Owens (at Friday night's concert) - performed almost the entire number on top of a small platform. The dancers were in constant contact, except for brief forays around the platform, and this added to the sense of confinement. Using their strength, the three pushed, fought, slipped free, and were recaptured as the story unfolded. In the end freedom was won when the prisoner tied the other two in a big knot, their own strength used against them. The audience cheered.

Much to the credit of the performers, the audience never felt the dancers were in danger on the platform. Such fear would have brought the audience out of the moment.

Dancers from the Island joined the dancers-in-residence for "8 1/2." Photo by Ralph Stewart
Dancers from the Island joined the dancers-in-residence for "8 1/2."

Naomi Goldberg-Haas used Island dancers to augment the residency dancers for her piece "8 1/2." The composition was dark not only in tone literally as well. The lighting, designed by E. St. John Villard, was too dark for the maroon-costumed dancers against the black background, making it difficult to see. Add to this the very heavy music, Russian Village Songs for Women performed by the Pokrovsky Ensemble, and it seemed like the weight of the world was on the backs of these 10 dancers. As the piece labored on one kept hoping for some light at the end of the journey. There was none. Just 10 strong women, going through life, making their way, surviving.

The Yard stretched its collective wings this season, reaching out to the community with great performances and events such as the Week of the Whale. But the Yard really shines when their mission to foster new works produces art of this caliber. Put the Yard on your schedule for next season.

For more information on the Yard, visit www. dancetheyard.org or call 508-645-9662.