The Encore! performance of this year’s DANCENOW Festival at Joe’s Pub, with audience and festival panel favorites in attendance, made two things pretty clear: First, that there is still, surprisingly, much humor to be gleaned from dance; and second, that disappointingly few pieces in this best-of-the-fest show actually found ways to include much dance or even movement.

DANCENOW is what you might recommend to someone unfamiliar with the New York dance scene – no number exceeds five minutes in length; little is taken seriously; cramped tables make for easy discussion and conspiring with your neighbors... The audience, well oiled with alcohol, is ready to respond enthusiastically. When Jordan Isadore’s delightfully and deliberately tacky romp Thousands Place took to the stage, I found myself feeling buoyantly optimistic about the future of the downtown dance scene... if choreographers could mock modern dance’s intensity with as much glee as this!

Jamal Jackson © Yi Chun Wu
Jamal Jackson
© Yi Chun Wu
But the rest of the evening felt disappointingly uneven: Jane Comfort and Company’s Excuse Me, But… was an appealing (if overdone) parody of restaurant customers ordering ridiculously detailed meals; while Saroshi Haga and Rie Fukuzawa’s binbinFactory felt nonsequitar-ish to the point of pointlessness, with its headlamps, a jarring moment of sudden bumping and grinding and incessant shuffling. Mark Dendy’s Dystopian Distractions! excerpt was polished, carefully choreographed and with the subtlest of narrative arcs, rendering it as close to perfect as one can get in only five minutes. But Jamal Jackson and Dana Thomas’ The People Vs. felt cloying and too one-dimensional, and the evening’s closers—The Wondertwins—did little more than shamelessly lip sync.

            Few pieces showed potential for sustaining a full-length show, which is what this generous festival offers to the overall winner. Only TAKE Dance’s Love Stories and festival winner Bryan Strimpel’s What could/should or would, if… hinted at three-dimensionality and more than token movement. Other pieces, like BIGMANARTS’ Take it off! wisely chose to keep things short and sweet, with little possibility of expansion. Deborah Lohse, Cori Marquis and Donnell Oakley’s Ink Stink was definitely humorous –any piece that has Ms. Lohse in it cannot fail entirely, no matter what the subject matter or movement foundation– but didn’t feel cohesive. I enjoyed the women’s unexpected foraging into their tiny purses for sandwich and chicken leg devourings, but I wasn’t sure why it was happening.

M Murphy and M Milan © Yi Chun Wu
M Murphy and M Milan
© Yi Chun Wu

Though their piece arguably contained the least actual dancing, Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Millan’s Singer/Songwriter certainly felt the most genuinely funny. Clad in a short, sparkly dress with teased hair and a floor-length folksy dress, respectively, these two women spoke of dancing from their vaginas and pretending to rap as if they possessed large testicles with deadpan expressions and truly great comedic timing. Within moments of the show’s end, I found myself googling the duo’s website. I suppose it’s a testament to the festival that I discovered a new performance group to be excited over, but I do wish I’d felt that way about more of the performances. 

***11