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Barney Yates


by Barney Yates

Cornfield company dancers. Photo by Julie Lemberger.

On the sunny Sunday afternoon of June 6, 2021--a hot one for early in June--I rode my trusty old bike to the block of East 11th Street between Second and Third Avenues to watch “Spaced Out & Small Stages (excerpts),” performed by Cornfield Dance, the Cunningham-based group led by Ellen Cornfield, and guest soloists from The Bang Group, which is led by David Parker.  I found myself on a spot just outside St. Marks Church, making it venerable dance territory.  As the company seemed to be setting up against the churchyard wall, saw a stoop across the street that was in the shade and grabbed it, figuring I would be facing all the action.  I was right.

The performance had been preceded by a free, outdoor Cunningham technique class taught by Andrea Weber (which I missed) and there were to be two presentations of the dance program, one at 2:00 PM and one at 3:30 PM.  I was there for the first one.

A videographer set up a tripod.  My bike, like a dandelion, attracted a patch of other bicycles that were chained up against a scaffolding. Delivery men rode through.  The population thickened across the street, with most of the crowd leaning against or sitting on the churchyard’s cemetery wall.

Orchestra in formation. Photo by Julie Lemberger.

I found myself gorgeously close to the dancers, which was an interesting development.  Across the street, facing me, a two man combo of baritone sax and percussion provided the sonic environment, augmented by recorded sounds of cello, cricket chirps and bird calls.  (Composer Andreas Brade is credited in the show’s documentation.)

Excerpts of Cornfield’s repertory work, “Small Stages,” were presented that included floor work on the pavement (was it hot?) and I feared for brush burns on the dancers. These were accompanied by solos by David Parker that were performed by members of The Bang Group.  You could tell the two ensembles apart by their differing costumes.  Cornfield’s dancers wore splatter tie-dyed shirts with shorts while Parker’s were costumed in what looked more like street clothes with white shirts and long pants.

There was a premiere for Cornfield’s “Spaced Out,” which was danced using red chairs and interlocking mats.  Each dancer had their own mat square and we saw them freezing in poses on it, which included reading newspapers, in scrolling pages, which they rolled up and threw at the orchestra.

Dancing for the Cornfield company were Alexandra Berger, Eve Jacobs, Vanessa Knouse, Jin Ju Song-Begin, Ned Sturgis, Joshua Tuason, Mac Twining and Michael Bryan Wang.  Dancing for The Bang Group were ?Chelsea Ainsworth, Dylan Baker, Louise Benkelman, Jeffrey Kazin, Nik Owens and Thomas Seibold.

The church bells rang at 2:30.

Hobnobbing with other spectators after the program, I heard heartfelt expressions of gratitude for having live dance again, and plenty of praise for the show.  I was mindful of the fragility of this performance, which could have been ruined by rain.  If material like this could be regularly presented on this block on Saturday afternoons, it would be a fine addition to this East Village neighborhood and it would make the West Village jealous.

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