Choreographic skeletons from a lost pandemic time

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Choreographic skeletons from a lost pandemic time
Dancers perform in Madeline Hollander’s “Review,” in New York, Oct. 28, 2021. In “Review,” the choreographer Madeline Hollander reimagines months of unseen dance performances at the Hamilton Fish Pool in Manhattan. Julieta Cervantes/The New York Times.

by Gia Kourlas

NEW YORK, NY.- Spanning seven lanes of an empty pool on the Lower East Side were dancers, 24 in all, swimming their way through movement. Some forged together in duos and trios, while others were lost in solitary space. It was a cacophony of bodies performing disparate choreography, yet the bigger picture revealed a collective harmony. You watched their physical forms — twisting, contracting, arms reaching up to points unknown — but what you sensed was the deep internal awareness of their minds. It was hypnotic.

In “Review,” artist and choreographer Madeline Hollander has brought together New York City dancers, from big and small companies and from Broadway shows, and given them a task: to perform choreography that was canceled or postponed during the pandemic. But in her exploration of months (and months) of canceled culture, she has devised a different kind of dance experience. “Review” is performed through the act of marking.

Marking — going through the motions of a dance without performing full-out — is a wonder of movement mechanics. The hands might mimic the feet; there is the curving path that a dancer walks while leaving the jumps out or hopping lightly through them. In “Review,” Hollander takes this private, unmannered language that all dancers practice and turns it into a show.

Performed Thursday at the Hamilton Fish Pool as part of the Performa biennial, “Review” featured a stage full of such choreographic skeletons. It’s like a garment first made in muslin before a designer pulls out the silk. As the work reduced dances to their essence, the dancers brought something else to the stage: themselves.

The audience, separated by the width of the pool and facing each other in runway formation, watched from a few feet above the sunken space. Rows of lights lined the sides. Near the start of “Review,” which unfolded in three sections, dancers stood behind the lights, which, when all were turned on, filled the pool with radiant brightness. Ensemble members of the first national tour of “Fiddler on the Roof” shared the stage with, among others, choreographer Jodi Melnick; Huiwang Zhang from the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company; Martha Graham dancers; and Olivia Boisson, Miriam Miller and Megan LeCrone of New York City Ballet.

As the dancers deftly traced their paths, the scene was otherworldly, as if a box of crayons had come to life. Wearing costumes by Anna-Sophie Berger, groups and individuals were delineated by color — royal blue for New York City Ballet, bright yellow for Graham dancers, green for the jovial cast members of “Fiddler.” When dancers finished a variation or part of a work, they bowed, returned to their light and turned it off until all performances for that section were completed.

In the first two acts, it could be difficult to discern the degree of marking — some dancers seemed to be performing more full-out than others. It also would have helped to be able to watch “Review” from greater distance and height to better distinguish the patterns. (Next time, a quarry!) But the point was clear: By placing so many different dancers and productions together on one stage, Hollander showed what has been lost having this time taken away. By the third section, there was something else at play: The dancers, vulnerable and tired — it was a brisk night — took on the spirit of their dances.

Starting off quietly and contained, they danced with their hands, fluttery and swooping, which showed us not just the patterns of their choreography but something of its rhythmic makeup. Even though “Review” was set to an electronic score by composer Celia Hollander (the choreographer’s sister), the performers seemed to have different music — or even silence — in their heads.

As they progressed, their gestures became bigger, taking up more space and greater effort until, by the end, many were as close to actually dancing as they could get. Moments of classic works emerged, briefly and excitingly, such as George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco” and Graham’s “Chronicle,” but it was just as essential to see the effect of marking in the choreographic investigations of today. Melnick’s dance language, which cascades from her limbs with intricate changes of speed and exertion, walks that fine line between fully formed and halfway there. That’s part of its incandescence.

Hollander’s rendering of the lost season is something she considers to be, as she writes in program notes, “a live choreographic ready-made” for the way it relies on existing works. But when that choreography is presented all at once, it’s also a ritualistic homage. “Review” is both a reflection and a choreographic illustration of the here and now, a time when going through the motions of life is full of more mystery than what may appear on the surface. That’s a dance, too.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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