Posts Tagged ‘Chase Booth’

Dark Days: Jeanette Stoner and Dancers

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

By Rachel Straus

In Jeanette Stoner’s eery “Distant Past, Ancient Memories,” which premiered at her loft studio in downtown Manhattan (Jan. 23-26), the choreographer seems to be summoning forth a ghost. As was the case with Martha Graham’s mythologically inspired dances, which drew from Carl Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, Stoner creates a dreamlike landscape in which her protagonist (Chase Booth) seems to recall his past and witness its unfolding on the stage before him.

Heightened emotional states—particularly pain and terror—unfold through movement tableaus, performed by a chorus of six male dancers who move at a remove from the watchful eye of the bald and muscular Booth, cloaked in black velvet. Drama is achieved not only by Booth’s menacing figure, as he stands like the undead in the velvet drapery which pools around him like a spiral of coagulated blood, but also by the sharp, flood of light created by Zvi Gotheiner. Amos Pinhasi later appears and circles Booth. As Pinhasi does so, Booth slowly crumbles like a vampire brought to light.

While Pinhasi, dressed in contemporary slacks and shirt, remains outside the action, six young men, dressed like Greco-Roman warriors, become embroiled in it: They swim though a dark river, created by the black drapery that once cloaked Booth. Their spear ritual turns into the chaos of war, and then they appear to die. Like Graham’s mythological dances of the 1940s, these characters inhabit a brutal world where their fate seems to be decided by another more powerful.

Stoner, who danced with the abstract, multi-media choreography Alwin Nikolais (who disdained Martha Graham’s story telling style), seems to be pushing farther afield from her former employer’s aesthetic. While her earlier works on the program, such as “Green” (1978) and “Ladder” (2009) are conceptual snapshots, evidenced by the simplicity of the titles and the referential movement describing each title, in “Distant Past” a much larger vision is being formulated. This dramatically intense, new work needs polishing, but it deserves to be developed further and seen again. There is something fearsomely vivid about “Distant Past.”

“Wall,” the other premiere on the program, is like “Distant Past” imbued with a sense of dread. In the brief work, Peter Davis is repelled and attracted to a wall directly to the right and in front of the audience. When he eventually reaches it and slides along its surface, he seems to absorbs it, like a man who has succumbed once again to drink. The tension Davis produces in his body is enhanced by the fact that he moves in silence. This work evokes loneliness. It’s difficult not to read the solo as a choreographer confronting the boundaries of her craft in the space that she lives, works and performs in. Walls can bring a sense of safety, they can house creativity, and they can imprison.

Like many choreographers who have persevered, Stoner has bore witness to many U.S. dance movements: the high drama of Martha Graham, the abstraction of Alwin Nikolais, the anti-virtuosity of Yvonne Rainer, the minimalism of Lucinda Childs, the fusion dancing of Twyla Tharp, and the formalism of Balanchine and Cunningham. Stoner’s work incorporates aspects of each of these movements, but she doesn’t appear to be a direct descendent of any them. Perhaps it’s because her work never entered the mainstream dance world. There is something to be said for being on the outside of the concert dance machine, which grinds many a choreographer up. In “Distant Past, Ancient Memories,” Stoner is drawing on narrative, dream, and the psyche. She is choreographing with a broader stroke and with the maturity of an artist who has witnessed much dance history.