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Barney Yates


Photo by Yi-Chun Wu

Brenda Neville’s program, “Celebrating Women Composers” March 25, 2023 at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, 248 West 60th Street, celebrated Women’s History Month with a matchup of women composers and choreographers. The composers included Caroline Shaw, Zoe Keating, Nkeiru Okoye, Lo Kristenson, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Helen Jane Long and Valentina Magaletti.  Choreographers included Brenda Neville and guests Kristen Klein and Lauren Settembrino. The latter two were recipients of Neville Dance Theatre’s 2023 Chance-to-Choreograph program.

The hour started with “Eclipse,” choreographed by Neville to waltzy music by Helen Jane Long played on solo piano with strings. Classical in feeling, it was performed by four dancers in three pools of light that moved around. Costumed in short white skirts, also on pointe, the work moved at a fast pace, testing the dancers' agility and stamina. It was followed by a world premiere, “Flee Porneia,” which was choreographed and danced by short-haired bruinette Lauren Settembrino, dressed in a white shirt, to two electronic pieces by Zamilska. It began with Settembrino tracing on the stage with her thumb and evolved into painful gestures that I found quite powerful.

“Identities” by Brenda Neville, another premiere, was in three parts. It opened with “I/ME” projected on the backdrop. Six dancers in unitards, hair tied back, described their personalities (“tenacious,” “caring,” “entrovert”), then worked into gestures from these words. Choreography that featured high extensions was performed to electronic music by Caroline Shaw and Lo Kristenson. In Part 2, the projection said “YOU/THEY.” Music by Hildur Guðnadóttir and Milly Joyce accompanied very modern ballet movement for an ensemble that grew to eight dancers. Part 3, with “WE/US” projected behind, was danced to thoughtful piano music from “Dusk” written by Nkeiru Okoye from album “African Sketches” played by Maria Thompson Corley and “Exurgency” written and performed by Zoe Keating. The dancers wore unitards of differing pastels; belts were added. A series of dainty leaps culminated in a frieze of their appelations.

I was glad for intermission because the seating was just too tight and I needed to stretch. A little more space between rows could go a long way, guys.

The second half began with “Banter” (Adagio Excerpt),” choreographed by Brenda Neville to “Fern,” a piece by Zoe Keating for strings with rhythmic underscore that was danced in duets. “The Pursuit,” a world premiere by Kristen Klein, was set to music by Valentina Magaletti that ranged from crowd noises to percussion. It was described as an exploration of mankind’s intuitive drive for success. I guess that’s why one woman pushed the other three off the stage. The movement was modern and the audience relished it. The program ended with “Exposed (Excerpt)” by Neville, set to “Cool Grey 1” by Hildur Guðnadóttir and “The Solution” by Hauschka & T. Reynolds. It was an engaging dance with hand-held lights that sometimes projected dancing shadows on the background.

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