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Barney Yates

The Oracle at Periapsis

Periapsis Music & Dance
May 10 and 11, 2019
Kumble Theater at LIU Brooklyn
1 University Plaza, Brooklyn
Reviewed by Barney Yates May 11, 2019

"Periapsis," in an astronomical sense, means the point in the path of an orbiting body at which it is nearest to the body that it orbits. Periapsis Music and Dance is a Brooklyn-based ensemble of dancers and musicians led by composer/pianist Jonathan Howard Katz that endeavors to find the closest point in the orbit of dance around music. (Or is it music around dance?) It explores how to cultivate the nexus of music and dance in unique ways, and the result that I saw in "Oracle," a program of dance-music collaborations at Kumble Theatre for the Performing Arts at LIU Brooklyn, was--shall I say?--conscientious.

There were dances by Norbert De La Cruz III, Erin Dillon, Allalee Taylor and Hannah Weber set to original music by Jonathan Howard Katz, Hilary Purrington and Harry Stafylakis.

Composer/choreographer relationships were the theme of the program, and I sensed a deliberateness in all the dances to fulfill the music in all its aspects. The result was that seemingly every motion and nuance of the music had to be addressed. This gave the dances a busy quality, making me muse about the role of silences in performance. I'm a fan of 'em. Pauses in the action, however brief, allow the work to sink in. In general, this work lacked 'em.

In "conjouring MAEJHH" (2018-2019), a premiering work, choreography by Annalee Traylor was set to music by Hilary Purrington that was played by Jonathan Howard Katz on piano. I became fixed during this first part of the evening on the youthfulness of the dancers. We saw three dancers in black, one under-dressed in a body stocking. The piece began slowly, growing toward fortissimo in both music and dance. Katz had mentioned the phrase "dance with musical notation" in his spoken introduction and so I was cued to watch for this. I did, and I will say I enjoyed it as a concept. It gives you lots to think about. The dancers seemed to play a game where they faced each other and put heads on each others' shoulders. Frantic movement by red-headed Erin Dillon closed the piece.

In "One Breath," a world premiere by Amy Marshall was set to an original electronic score by Kevin Keller. There was a percussive score with sort of a lub-dub heartbeat motif leading it. Sudden thrusts of movement drew attention to the youthfulness of the nine dancers--nobody but the young would stand up to these particular movements. There were also balletic lifts and lots of side-to-side leaping on the wide stage. A lively light design by Tuce Yasak (credited for the entire evening) softened the dancers' upper bodies like the afternoon sun. Costumes by Meredith Van Scoy were blue tops over flowy, tie-dyed wraparound skirts or sarongs that lent a grace to the proceedings. There was a brief wheel of four dancers that reminded me of the classical Parcae, the fates of Greek mythology, and sounds of Jovian thunder crept in. I was conjuring more classical metaphors but then I realized I had been reading The Iliad too much and I'd better get my mind off it. (Or maybe not--maybe Periapsis didn't name the evening "Oracle" for nothing.) The whole ensemble traversing the stage in big leaps, tossing their skirts, was thrilling.

The piano moved center stage for "Elle ne m'aime pas," a world premiere with choreography by Hannah Weber, set to music by Jonathan Howard Katz. The stage was lit with a ghost light. The piece seemed born of youthful improvisation. Throughout, Katz was tormented by flaming-haired Erin Dillon. We were treated to a study of the histrionics of a young woman who, if we are to take the title literally, was punishing her ex-lover for her ambivalence toward him. She mounted his shoulders, they danced a duet of her climbing on him. She needed him and she punished him. Varium et mutabile semper femina, as Vergil would say. She fainted, he tried to revive her but she was a floppy doll. Seeing her passed out, he placed his jacket under her head and kissed her (she didn't deserve this tenderness, I thought to myself). He played the piano again and she resumed dancing. I wrote in my notes, "false ending."

Throughout some dances of the program, the low light had the characters beautifully outlined to my eye, but I could understand how they might just be invisible from the back of the house.

Demetria Charles in "Oracle." Photo by Rachel Neville

Part two began with "Encaged," a Grahamesque dance performed by Emily Wolfe, choreographed by Erin Dillon, set to a tinkling score by Jonathan Howard Katz. Movement seemed to be set to every note in the score. The result was the sort of "busy" choreography I referred to above. "Every Fibre of Her Being," a simple solo work of balletic movement choreographed by Sheena Annalise, was accompanied by violinist/composer Natalia Steinbach. The program ended with its eponymous piece, "Oracle" (premiere), choreographed by Norbert De la Cruz III to "Gnothi Seauton" by Harry Stafylakis. Accompanied by Lauren Cauley on violin, Caleb van der Swaagh on cello and Jonathan Howard Katz on piano, it was a piece for six dancers about love, at least in its duets, with two couples of mixed genders and one of two women. It turned out to be a scene-stealer for Demetria Charles, who shone throughout.

Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts at LIU Brooklyn is located at 1 University Place. What the address doesn't tell you is that it's right on Flatbush Ave. and across the street from Junior's. So when you attend this performing arts complex, you can conveniently eat at this iconic nosherie. Lots of subways go right there too, making the location extremely accessible.


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