Peak Performances premieres Netta Yerushalmy’s ‘Movement’; inventive work contains multitudes

netta movement review

PHOTOS BY MARINA LEVITSKAYA

From left, Hsiao-Jou Tang, Burr Johnson, Caitlin Scranton, Christopher Ralph and Khalifa Babacar Top dance in “Movement,” which they created with Netta Yerushalmy.

“Movement,” which is having its world premiere at the Peak Performances series at Montclair State University this week, includes steps previously seen in everything from the Philip Glass/Robert Wilson opera “Einstein on the Beach” to Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U” video. Which is kind of the point.

Choreographer Netta Yerushalmy and seven dancers — Burr Johnson, Catie Leasca, Christopher Ralph, Caitlin Scranton, Jin Ju Song-Begin, Hsiao-Jou Tang and Khalifa Babacar Top — created this work together, using elements of more than 100 dances. The dancers come from different countries and, obviously, have different artistic backgrounds, so a wide variety of movements was guaranteed.

Jin Ju Song-Begin is lifted in “Movement.”

“The Movements of Movement were smuggled into the rehearsal room in the bodies of the dancers,” Yerushalmy and the work’s dramaturg, Katherine Profeta, have written. “Virtually every step in this piece has a previous personal relationship to at least one of the performers. Virtually no steps here were created ‘new.’ ”

Yerushalmy and Profeta also compared the technique of “Movement” to sampling in music, where an artist (typically a hip-hop record producer) uses one or more previously recorded pieces of music, placing it or them in a different context to create something different.

Helpfully (for those of us who don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of dance history), some of the dance sources were shared on a screen at the end of the piece, as the dancers continued dancing.

Folk dance, classical dance, modern dance, yoga poses, Hollywood-like strutting and much more made it into the piece. They dancers could be as delicate as a ballerina or as boldly suggestive as a Chippendales troupe member. Parts of the 70-minute piece were clearly evocative of birth and death. Beyond that, the viewer could project nearly any element of life onto the quickly shifting segments.

The slowly morphing and frequently hazy electronic score, by Paula Matthusen, echoed this, and even contained some sound effects that suggested hip-hop record scratching (to go along with the sampling).

Dancers performed in various combinations — sometimes in close coordination with each other, sometimes as if lost in a world of their own. The rhythm was the rhythm of life itself, with meditative lulls followed by bursts of feverish activity. Often, one or more dancers would break off from the group and start doing new; this would then be incorporated into what the other dancers were doing, and “Movement” would morph into something else. The only constant was change.

“We ‘contain multitudes,’ ” Yerushalmy and Profeta wrote. “What if we think Whitman’s thought not just in terms of perspectives or personalities, but all these well-worn, well-loved patterns of movement?”

With ample amounts of humor laced throughout its dizzying abstract narrative, “Movement” should appeal to both dance neophytes and those more well equipped to dissect the sources of its choreography.

Remaining performances of “Movement” take place at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University March 18 at 7:30 p.m., March 19 at 8 p.m. and March 20 at 2 p.m. Visit peakperfs.org.

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