Directed and choreographed by Stefanie Nelson

Before the performance even begins, director Stefanie Nelson has already begun to make a statement. One of the tunes playing on the mixed tape as the audience files into the theater is “White Rabbit”, Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic update of Lewis Carroll’s famous journey down the rabbit hole. As with all aspects of Nelson’s meticulously constructed meditation on the ravages of dementia, the song wasn’t chosen by accident. In some ways, the protagonist of A MY NAME IS has a lot in common with the literary Alice. Both are desperately lost in a world that increasingly seems devoid of logic and proportion. Both lack the tools to makes sense of it all.

Through a series of vibrant dance pieces, each with a clear mood and tempo established by composer Jonah Kreitner, we see the protagonist in three distinct periods of her life. Emily Tellier, the mature Alice, moves with confidence and restraint, while the vital young Alice, danced by Julia Discenza, seems keen to the world around her. Christine Bonansea plays in her later years, facing a rapid decrease in cognition and memory. The three Alices reveal their personalities through solo dances. They also observe one another and intermingle, sometimes in consort, often at odds. Cameron McKinney, who comes and goes like a phantom, seems to represent Alice’s relationships: the lovers, colleagues, family members and caretakers whose image is becoming unrecognizable.

Red apples abound on the stage, thudding and rolling across the floor and forming painterly patterns against the pristine white of the set. An apple even appears in a video projection, in which the decomposition process is sped up through time lapse photography. It’s an apt metaphor. All living things, from Alice to apples, are subject to what Robert Frost called the “slow smokeless burning of decay”.

Whereas a straightforward drama would walk us through stages mental deterioration, the abstractness and purity of dance allows for a more fluid, less literal approach. The performers bring to their work a sense of discovery, allowing themselves – and ultimately the audience – to step inside of subject most of us find uncomfortable. We begin to see the world through Alice’s eyes. Memories lose their moorings, pieces drop out of familiar narratives, and independence slips out of reach. Even then, there is something vital and human at the core of her experience. She is still Alice, even if she has lost the ability to say so.

A MY NAME IS… ran at 357 West 36th St, New York, New York from December 7-10, 2017. For more information on upcoming performances, check http://www.sndancegroup.org.



WOMEN ON THE EDGE… Unsung Heroines of The Trojan War


Choreographed by Pascal Rioult

Based on the Trojan War plays of Euripides

Music performed by Uptown Philharmonic under the direction of Kyle Ritenauer

Blending modern and ancient elements, choreographer Pascal Rioult turns his attention to the mythic narrative of Trojan War, specifically the female protagonists around whom many of the stories revolve. Fear not, you don’t have to have total recall of the Euripides you read back in college. Program notes provide synopses of the plays. Better still,  Kathleen Turner, clad strikingly in black, recites excerpts from the classic texts in her well-known sonorous voice. The potency of the spoken lines – startlingly modern in their economy and rhythmic punch – adds immeasurably to the atmosphere.

Expanding on the work of his mentor, Martha Graham, Rioult moves his athletic, graceful dancers in patterns of contraction and release. Energy builds in the performers’ coiled bodies, then springs into dynamic spirals. With the aid of Pilar Limosner’s painterly costumes and Jim French and David Finley’s mood-enhancing lighting design, the production echoes the fluid lines and dramatic poses found in ancient Greek illustrations of the rituals, battles and betrothals of the Hellenic era.

In Iphigenia the eponymous heroine (Catherine Cooch), grows from a playful filly to the young bride of the warrior Achilles. Unfortunately, a different altar awaits her as the gods command her father Agamemnon (Brian Flynn) to sacrifice her. Her mother Clytemnestra (Marianna Tsartolia) puts up a fight, but it soon becomes clear that, without some Olympian aid, the Greeks will lose the battle with Troy. Ultimately both mother and daughter accept the inevitable, and Iphigenia is honored by her nation in a darkly festive ritual as she goes to her death. Michael Torke’s music captures the theme of innocence shattered by war, while Cooch’s coltish vitality and magnetic stage presence underscore the story’s fatalistic poignance.  

A more meditative tone animates On Distant Shores. Composer Aaron Jay Kernis adds a touch of the ethereal, as Helen of Troy (Charis Haines) stands before a bank of moving clouds (one version of the myth has it that a “phantom Helen”, fashioned out of clouds, traveled to Troy with Paris while the real queen stayed home in Sparta). Both worshipped as a beauty and reviled as the cause of the war, Helen can only express her true self in solitude. Haines’s delicate features and regal bearing bring a weary dignity to the internal struggle of a woman cursed with fame: appalled by blood spilled in her name, yet unable to stop the carnage.

The most searing of the three pieces, Cassandra’s Curse plunges headlong into the carnage of war and the sorrows of its aftermath. Backed by the forceful strains of Richard Danielpour’s turbulent music, the prescient princess of Troy (Sara E. Seger) is haunted by dreadful visions of bloodshed and destruction. But her apathetic countrymen, believing that the Greeks have given up their siege, are too busy partying to pay attention. As Cassandra has predicted, though, the  wooden horse, given as a gift from the Greeks, turns out to be ruse. When night falls, soldiers emerge from the belly of the beast and slaughter the sleeping Trojans. The surviving women are taken captive, with Cassandra herself awarded to Agamemnon as a concubine. Seger gives a haunting performance as the terrified soothsayer, while the ensemble vibrantly embodies the decadent, dreaming city and the violence with which the illusion of peace is brought to an end. Conceptually, though, the piece comes dangerously close to overselling its relevance. The dancers appear in modern dress, and video projections show images of modern cities besieged by war. Luckily, projection designer Brian Clifford Beasley handles the task with sensitivity and chooses colors and compositions that dovetail well with the dance. Ultimately, though, the device seems unnecessary. The terpsichore speaks for itself without any added context.

RIOULT DANCE NEW YORK continues through June 26, 2016 at the Joyce Theater, 175 8th Ave, New York, NY 10011. Tickets (212) 691-9740.