- On Two Premiers by Ariel Rivka Dance
In a city replete with dance companies, Ariel Rivka Dance, now in its twelfth year, stands out. With places in the company eagerly sought by dancers in New York—at a recent audition over two hundred applicants turned out—the company boasts an exceptional range of works: from atmospheric pieces like Beatrice's Rainbow (2016), a celebration of early life, to Ori (2015) which explores the aesthetics of light accompanied by four celli; from Stops and Starts (2010), a focus on the family and relationships with an original classic rock score, to highly personal works such as Eva (2004), the choreographer's tribute to her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, and the play-length Book of Esther (2014), an adaptation of the Purim story tracing women's struggles then and now. That the company has its own resident composer, husband of director Ariel Grossman, means that most of the scores for the dances reflect in part what he experiences during rehearsals. Ariel Rivka Dance has also taken the lead in working with other companies and, as a consequence, has performed at a variety of venues throughout the United States.
The two most recent pieces, She (2018) and No Words (2017), are a testament to what can be accomplished by a company with a clear mission ("to explore unrefined emotions and movements in an organized structure"), with talented artists, and—of special importance—a desire to use dance for reasons at once aesthetic and social, even political.
She grows out of choreographer Ariel Grossman's own post-partum depression, aggravated by her difficulty breastfeeding her second child. With "stress about breast feeding, lack of sleep, and constantly being pulled in every direction and never landing," what she calls "the emotional wave of motherhood," she turned to Stefania de Kenessey, a leading figure in contemporary music, for a score that she could then choreograph. The composer, in her own words, "created a lot of sketches" but never "felt a sense of a hundred-percent match to the dance," until Grossman, in what de Kenessey calls a "stroke of genius," suggested building a score on the sounds of a breast pump.
The breast pump, the work's only sound, was manipulated by de Kenessey in terms of tempo and dynamic range. At times it resembles the percussion section of a brass band; at other times we hear the liquid countermelody as the breast milk is being extracted. Its beat ranges from fast and insistent—underscoring the mechanical nature of the machine—to a legato, especially soothing as de Kenessey slows down the tempo. "Creating a sound score to match the dance (rather than the other way around)," the composer called it "an eye-opening experience.
Grossman lays out a collage of moods that vary from what she calls "slow personal moments" to "fast chaotic crossings of the stage." Hers is a choreography that uses the full stage, from long rectangular strips of light parallel to the audience, runways for those fast chaotic crossings, to a duet bathed in red light center-stage, to dancers lying onstage facing the audience. She moves from a dark stage at the beginning without the sound of the pump, a solo dancer expressing her anguish by clutching her stomach, to a joyous moment when de Kenessey picks up the tempo, as the two dancers, soon to be joined by the entire company, suggest—to this viewer at least—mothers coming together, finding a bond in sharing their challenges. At times, dancers stand upstage like a silent audience to the mother in a solo or duet center-stage; at other times, the company seem to look directly at the audience, asking for their understanding, for the sympathy that they themselves are showing onstage.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
The juxtaposition of anguish and joy, one mother's depression and communal bonding, is echoed by the paradox of the music, for the breast pump is at once a confession that the mother is somehow inadequate and, at the same time, an enabler, allowing her to give life-sustaining milk to her child. Without words, its score built around...