New Street: An Afternoon of Favorites | Rachel Halkias (May 2015)

New Street: An Afternoon of Favorites
Sunday, May 3, 2015
Touchstone Theater

by Rachel Halkias

There is something very personal about witnessing an artist's favorite works from her own repertory, whether the discipline is music, dance or any other art form. The choices are most likely diverse - snapshots on a timeline that show the artist’s thoughts, beliefs and interests at different points in her life. New Street Dance Group presented #Throwback: An Afternoon of Favorites From Our Repertory May 3 at the Touchstone Theatre in Bethlehem. The black box theater provided an appropriately intimate atmosphere.

The program opened with “Tripled” from 2006, a piece choreographer Shannon Dooling later explained was created during her education at DeSales University. A group of three dancers begin standing close together, touching each others’ faces but facing away from each other. Moments of intense direct eye contact are woven throughout the piece, the dancers keenly aware of each other’s occupation of the space. Sometimes they move closely in unison, as one entity. Other times they periodically break off on their own - but always come back to the group. The program notes the piece is inspired in part by the “Women, Where Are We Going” monologue from The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein, and gives an excerpt describing the contradictory feelings women often harbor towards each other.

In “Highs and Lows,” another piece from 2006 choreographed by Shannon Dooling, a clear environment of tension is established. Long, drawn-out notes in the opening music seem to stretch across the space and build this environment. Throughout the piece there is repeated a two-fingered extended arm movement that seems to be more of a pulling from the exterior rather than a pointing motion originating from the mover. The dancers’ faces are often covered, either with their own hand or arm, or by laying face down on the floor. Periodically, repetitive and percussive sounds reminiscent of but not identical to gunfire fade in and out of the music. The piece begins with the dancers in the center of the stage in a close group on the floor and concludes with them at the edges of the stage. There seems to be no resolution - this tension may be perpetual.

By the end of the first half, it seemed that New Street Dance Group’s individual aesthetic quality results partly from basic movement architecture - the ways in which space is utilized and movement pathways created. It is also shown through deliberate shapes and lines that constitute thoughtful phrases of movement and dynamic variation within those phrases.

“Braiding,” choreographed by Krista Armbruster in collaboration with the cast in 2013, begins with four dancers dressed in nice but casual street clothes consisting of different red, black and white pieces doing different movement phrases that don’t match but have a common quality, as though individual chunks of one long phrase. The movement is very circular - small and large circles, slow and quick ones, some that are localized to a particular body part and others that involve larger sections of the body.  A program note explains that the piece was created by the dancers generating and deconstructing phrases of movement. After watching these different sections of movement in various contexts, the phrases are finally connected and performed in unison without interruption. The piece has a curious and sometimes playful tone, different from the intense connection between dancers in some of the other pieces.

Markedly unique in the program was “Improvisation #5” from 2014, in the sense that it features a live cellist (Jonathan Cain) onstage interacting with a single dancer (Shannon Dooling). They start together in the near corner on the audience’s left, with the dancer’s arm moving slowly horizontally like the musician’s bow. As the piece progresses, they watch each other intently, often maintaining eye contact. There is ambiguity around who is driving the direction of the piece, the dancer or the musician. It is unspecified as to whether the piece is actually improvised live, is using choreography based on a previous improv session or if it is a sort of improv with guidelines thathas a basic structure within which to improvise, but the latter seems most likely. As an audience member, it is fun and engaging to watch two people communicate onstage without words, sort of alone - no one else is dancing with the dancer and no one else is playing with the musician - yet very much together.

Whether long-time supporters or relative newcomers, audience members were invited to explore the essence of New Street Dance Group as a company through this diverse program, making it accessible, interesting and relevant.