Women / Create is a dance festival in its seventh year that puts together four of the top names among women modern dance choreographers. The program presented a mix of new and tried and tested works by Karole Armitage, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Carolyn Dorfman and Jennifer Muller. With this level of choreographic talent, there was bound to be something you liked. The four of them have to be on anyone’s short list for most influential modern dance choreographers.

Yusaku Komori in Armitage's <i>Donkey Jaw Bone</i> © Stephen Pisano
Yusaku Komori in Armitage's Donkey Jaw Bone
© Stephen Pisano
Karole Armitage’s Donkey Jawbone is the first piece I’ve ever seen that included musical accompaniment by the jawbone of an ass. In the biblical tale, Samson slew a thousand Philistines with such a jawbone but here, in the Lucha Libre inspired dance, it became a key part of the rhythm that propelled Donkey Jawbone. The work was listed as a preview in the program which I take to mean it’s a work in progress and therefore not entirely finished. It was the most uneven piece of the evening in terms of quality but it was at times also the most fun. The beginning featured four men in luchador costumes. It seemed to me that the dancers hadn’t sufficiently understood the Mexican archetypes that underlie the highly theatrical Lucha Libre wrestling genre. At times they appeared to be going through the motions and had little concept of their characters. Two women followed and they seemed to have a better sense of what they were doing. The piece really began to take off when Juan Lucero played the jawbone to accompany a flirtatious dance by Megumi Eda. From there, the dancers either found their footing or the concept had been better developed. Either way, it was terrific fun as the musicians accompanied a raucous set of bouts featuring the stock characters of Lucha Libre that even went so far as to indulge in some cross-dressing.

Jennifer Muller’s Shock Wave had no explicit political message but it was hard not to see the implication. It began with the ensemble dancing in a state of high emotionality that was anxious and angry. So very like the way we’re living now, with conservatives and progressives screaming at one another across the unbridgeable divide. It ended with a bang, the titular shock wave, and then the women of the company followed, dancing a section of lamentation. We live in challenging times and I think that reasonable people on both sides are feeling a great sense of loss and desolation. Muller seems to be saying that we’ll all be okay if we can just stick together and remain optimistic. Her dancers work through the sadness and find their way by forging new connections with one another and the work ends on a positive note. Let’s hope that she’s right!

Sonja Chung and Shiho Tanaka in Muller's <i>Shock Wave</i> © Steven Pisano
Sonja Chung and Shiho Tanaka in Muller's Shock Wave
© Steven Pisano

The strongest piece on the program was Jacqulyn Buglisi’s 1991 Threshold, performed by Virginie Mécène and Kevin Predmore. It’s not just that the concept and choreography were so powerful. These are two great performers, especially Mécène. Each moment was thoroughly thought out and fully realized. Threshold opened with Mécène on the floor, underneath a translucent sheet that resembled a membrane or a chrysalis. She struggled under it eloquently before emerging to crawl along the floor, insect-like. Upon standing upright, she was approached from behind by Predmore. He looked like a predator until she leaned back slowly, molding herself to him, and took him over. She wrapped her arms and legs around him and crawled up on his back. The tone was partly erotic and partly a statement of female power. It’s a riveting work in which she alternately rides her mate, stands on his back, swivels to ride underneath, and then emerges on top again. Impressive on all counts.

Artists of Buglisi Dance Theatre in <i>Threshold</i> © Paul B Goode
Artists of Buglisi Dance Theatre in Threshold
© Paul B Goode

Carolyn Dorfman’s Waves, from 2015, was a crowd pleaser set to a combination of beatboxing, cello, shahi baaja, vocals and recorder. To save you the time of looking it up, a shahi baaja is a hybrid electrified Indian bulbul tarang crossed with a zither. While the dance was not exceptional, it was fast paced and pleasing. The highlight of the piece was getting the audience involved in some energetic chair dancing that made for a festive atmosphere in the show closer.

***11