Strangely enough, you can tell a lot about a dancer by how they stand still. There are styles in stillness, just as distinct as there are in any formal technique or set of personal quirks. There is the transparently plain, pedestrian stillness that abounds today. There is the easy, weight-sensing stillness that we see in much contact improvisation, and works that are influenced by that practice. And there is what critic Deborah Jowitt called “the old-fashioned, muscles-in-stress” stillness of the early moderns like Graham or Humphrey, where the performer reflects a truly serious dedication to whatever they’re involved with, even if it’s just standing by.
Karin Stevens’ newest work, (re)MOVE: Back Toward Again the (re)TURNING Facing, which played at Velocity Dance Center April 22-24, is full of this last kind of stillness—this is a community of dancers for whom movement means something. And Stevens seems to be a choreographer who wants to make dances that convey that meaning—her press materials and program text are full of references to justice, feminism, and the relationship of women to the earth. The challenge, as it often seems to be, is to find a kinetic link to these more abstract concepts.
On one level, that connection is fairly obvious—Stevens has made a work for herself and four other women (Taylor Augustine, Naphtali Beyleveld, Anja Kellner-Rogers, and Philippa Myler) where personal connection is a repeating element. Like her old-school forbears, Stevens is a leader among equals here, setting a vocabulary that seems to use impulse phrasing to generate movement while still giving it a formal sense. At several moments through the work we can see Stevens’ modern dance heritage in the shape and quality of the movement material—this is familiar territory for them and for us.
While she gives each of her performers opportunities to shine, Stevens is the main player here. An extended solo early on sets her apart from the rest of the ensemble in a kind of endurance test or personal journey. By the end of this section, we could believe that the other dancers are products of Stevens’ imagination, or different facets of her personality (although this could just be reading in). Through the rest of the work we see the group splinter and coalesce multiple times. There’s a certain ritual nature to some of what they do (costume pieces are worn and discarded, some gestures seem to have significance), but although they can be striking at the moment, and are performed with lovely clarity, they don’t always build to a bigger meaning.
Combining work from three separate composers (played live, which is a distinct pleasure) Stevens has dealt herself a big challenge with this evening, especially when it comes to shaping the overall development of the work. As she’s braided together compositions by Wayne Horvitz, Nate Omdal, and Michael Owcharuk, we miss a singular arc. And with such a complex set of ideas underpinning the dance, we need that help to follow along.
More information about Karin Stevens Dance can be found on her website.