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THE NEW YORK THEATRE WIRE sm

Barney Yates


ON THE STAIRS WITH
JEANETTE STONER AND DANCERS

Jeanette Stoner and Dancers
January 26-29, 2019
Stoner Loft, 83 Leonard Street, 5 fl.
$20, (212) 226-1576
Reviewed by Barney Yates January 26, 2019

There's a mood or thought behind almost every dance by Jeanette Stoner and that's probably the quality I have responded to both times I have seen new work in her TriBeCa loft at 83 Leonard Street. Upon arriving this time, on a seasonal night in January, I was asked to remove my shoes if I were to sit in the seats that were put out on the dance floor. This I am disinclined to do, bring prone to cold feet. So I sat a little higher, up on the risers, where I could keep my shoes on. It's a small house and you are not far from the action, no matter your vantage point. But I recommend first row on the floor for the warm-footed, because proximity lets you soak up more of the acting values of her dances.

We saw the battle of the sexes, a familiar topic, in "Couple" (2019), danced by Caroline Fermin and Chase Booth to Tango music that was arranged by Juan D'Arinzo. It was a dance of give-and-take motions and it got the evening off to a strong start. But it was in the next dance, "Hello" (2017), that I was reminded of the strength Ms. Stoner has in harnessing the maturity of her dancers. Irina Harris, Peter Davis and Charles Richardson, lit in dim lights, holding lanterns, speak to the wall: "Excuse me, hello!" There is a feeling of being lost, or like being on the phone when the other end goes silent. Irina Harris tries to see through a misty glass. All three are in white. Maybe, I think, Stoner is suggesting the gateway after death, or maybe it's just unconsciousness trying to break into consciousness. "It's Wonderful" plays underneath. The two men bop to the background sound.

In "Dual" (2008), Kingsley Nwaogu and Chase Booth are in a duet on wheeling stools, devices I recall from my last visit to the Stoner Loft. We sense the joy of wheeling around. Sometimes they fight; a very masculine impulse is at foot here.

A big cloth is spread out in the blackout before "Dormant II" and two figures, Kingsley Nwaogu and Chase Booth, go into the blackness, leaning back and forth in near-darkness. They seem to be praying over a third figure. Is it a child? The figure, Caroline Fermin, is uncovered and it looks like a birth. The cloth is expertly animated to seem like the tide. The piece was evocative of its predecessor piece, "Dormant" (2015), which I saw last time there.

After intermission, in "Stairways" (a premiere), we get the Stoner stair unit, which I had met last time in "Stairs" (2015). Well, Stoner's work is evolutionary. The indefatigable Chase Booth is on top of a structure formed by two stair units facing each other that reminds me of a Mesoamerican pyramid. His movements are gentle contortions; he wears a sleeveless unitard. He anchors himself with his hands and his feet wave with grace. As he moves up and down the stairs, suspending himself on top, he evinces a kind of weightlessness. Next, Caroline Fermin and Dan Walczak dance on and off the structure to gentle strains of Beethoven on the piano. The stair gets turned on its side and she hides in it. In part 3, the unit moves upstage left and Tal Halevi and Peter Davis take over. The music is arranged by Jeanette Stoner and Brooks Williams. Finding Halevi inert on the floor, Davis drags her up the stairs. They partner hand-to-hand. I don't quite understand this one and my mind keeps flashing on Frankenstein, don't ask me why. My mind should shut the heck up sometimes.

Next, Stella Goldin Garcia and Kingsley Nwaogu play with the side and front of the unit. The score is gentle guitar music by Ignacio Rodes. You could imagine that it's a stairway to heaven, but its probably more appropriate to just interpret this part, like the one before it, as nonliteral, mostly driven by their music.

Ms. Stoner can make her dancers float on the music, I write in my notes, like they are suspended in a carbonated beverage.

The fifth and final segment finds the company on the unit as it turns on wheels. Each part has been, in its own way, a duet with the stair unit. Chase Booth flings the other dancers against the stage right wall and they end in a frieze, waving at him. The audience cheers mightily.

I am now in the Chase Booth fan club. If you haven't gone to Jeanette Stoner and Dancers on a winter night, go. Bring warm socks and slippers.

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