NJPAC showcases promising choreographers at Jersey (New) Moves Festival

Connolly's "Borrowed Identities" was part of the

LAURA DiMEO

Laura Connolly’s “Borrowed Identities” was one of the highlights of the Jersey (New) Moves Festival that took place at NJPAC on Friday.

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center typically selects its programs from the top shelf, presenting a roster full of celebrated artists. On Friday, however, the Newark arts center turned to extend a hand to aspiring choreographers who have yet to make names for themselves.

Drawing an enthusiastic crowd of supporters, the Jersey (New) Moves Festival gave a terrific opportunity to four young dance makers, pairing them with artistic mentors and allowing them to taste the thrill of performing on the stage of NJPAC’s Victoria Theater. Selected from a pool of applicants, the newbies — all Rutgers graduates — were encouraged to develop 20 minutes of material without necessarily completing a work. Not all the results were ready for the limelight; yet the showcase unearthed some promising talent.

Laura Connolly, from Bayonne, was clearly experimenting in “Displayed Exposure,” in which ensemble members collected articles of clothing from a clothesline and lay in shadow beneath the laundry. The choreographer left viewers out to dry, however, when she dropped the thread of Nicholas Ruiz’s wiry opening solo and allowed her duet partners to shrug each other off. “Displayed Exposure” offered a series of false starts, without thematic development.

Connolly’s second piece, however, was meticulously assembled. Structure can be very satisfying and “Borrowed Identities” achieved clarity through contrast juxtaposing a wandering soloist with her frenetic, often tightly grouped companions. Offering visual rhythms and a neat gestural vocabulary (hands framing faces, or clamped on), this dance for four women held itself together with symmetry as couples exited and entered from opposing corners. This piece is a keeper.

It may be easier for young choreographers to imagine shapes than it is to move a design through space. Robert Mark Burke’s pas de deux “Sheath,” however, breathed lyrical inspiration even during slow passages. Kayla Collymore and Alexander Olivieri were the protagonists chasing each other to Max Richter’s “De Profundis” and “Love Slave”; and the choreographer from Elmwood Park made each of them stand out with Collymore’s restlessness a foil to Olivieri’s smoldering intensity. Although the dancers might pause to display gracefully extended lines or wrap around each other in lifts, the dancing quickly resumed its surge and flow.

Kyle Georgina Marsh, from Jersey City, had a point to make about gender identity in her piece “Arrow Dynamic Females.” The women who sat splayed on the ground did not appear disturbed. They were un-dressed in silk slips; and as they twisted to glance at us over one shoulder their expression was sensual and knowing. Yet the nervous monologue we heard told a different story, as a man recounted doing something to his eyebrows and vomiting. When the women changed into men’s suits, they grew frantic suggesting the obsessive-compulsive disorder hinted at in the monologue. Does switching gender roles produce this stress? Marsh didn’t say exactly, but her dance was wonderfully spare, confining itself to a few well-chosen poses and gestures that defined the work through repetition.

The concluding pieces on this program seemed less focused. Although choreographer Arielle Petruzzella, from Hoboken, exhibited her long limbs to advantage dancing her own solo “I Am Coming for My Things,” this work seemed more formal than emotional. Maybe Petruzzella was saving her punch for the ensemble piece “the fence that you sent me,” where a stripped-down Jessica Colberg responded to Shawn Brush’s attentions by sobbing dramatically. You can count on tears and heavy breathing to milk an audience, but unless the movement also tells a story sound effects like these are a cheap shot.

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