A Choreographer in Search of A Styleby Vanessa Manko
Adrienne Celeste Fadjo Dance at the Cunningham Studio
When one is offered too many choices, making a decision can be near impossible. When it comes to dance, any young choreographer working today has much to draw upon in terms of choosing a style, tone, or technique with which to work. One could create dance pieces according to the doctrines of postmodern dance. He or she could also work out of the Graham modern dance tradition, or even adapt club dancing for the concert stage. Rather than make such a decisive choice, it is the aim of choreographer Adrienne Celeste Fadjo and her Brooklyn-based dance company, Adrienne Celeste Fadjo Dance (ACFDance), to present a “versatile” body of work which touches upon or encapsulates several movement styles. Such a bevy of dance styles was presented in six works during the company’s New York debut concert, Right of Way, at the Cunningham Studio in July. And a mélange of movement the evening was—a little bit of club-dancing here, a dash of Graham there, and a sprinkling of the more cerebral and intense all around.
“StillMergingStill,” one of Fadjo’s earliest pieces, with music by Thomas Newman and Michael Nymann, is a moody, engaging work. Five women kneel, clustered along an upstage diagonal as a lone woman enters from the opposite corner—a structure that bookends the work. What ensues is a sweeping rush of movement. The dancers criss-cross the stage in running patterns, sometimes breaking out from the others to perform supple solo passages only to be swept back up into the forward-moving group dancing. There is an immediacy and energy to the choreography here as the dancers continually merge and split apart. The overall surging momentum inherent to this work makes the dancers seem in anxious pursuit of a destination unknown and showed a promise in Fadjo’s choreography that some of her other works lacked.
“Running on Time,” for instance, fell into a crack and lay somewhere in the murky realm between spoof and serious commentary. The all-female crew, decked out in work-a-day women’s wear, stomp and clamor about with little black purses in tow. One, two, then three women throw themselves into frantic dashes across the stage. A chorus line of kickboxing females works out some aggression. The toil and grind of the day was presented in tough, tight poses: affected push-ups, bodies lowered into plank or clenched fetal positions. Yet if this is to be a kind of dance commentary on contemporary city living, it merely grazes the surface of the subject matter, relying on cliched images of the rushed and harried working woman.
Perhaps the most poignant piece of the show is “One _ _ _ Fits All,” the solo Fadjo has created for the quirky performer and dancer Brian Feigenbaum. Wearing only an over-sized, white button-down shirt, Feigenbaum emerges tentatively from the wings. His sleeves dangle down to his bare thighs and the extra material becomes the focus of the dance. He fusses about in this get-up, swinging his arms round, wrapping them tightly over his chest, invoking the clench and pull of a straitjacket. Fadjo has created a smaller, more intimate movement style here—one that has some psychological complexity and depth, underscored by the music of Beethoven. And there is contrast in this piece as well. While Feigenbaum struggles with the over-sized shirt—the sleeves flailing about—he is constrained and confined. Yet, when he matter-of-factly tucks the extra material into his shirt cuffs, his arms emerge and he is able to move freely and unfettered for a series of airy jumps. There is something entirely vulnerable about a bare-legged man in his shirtsleeves and Feigenbaum uses this to good effect, for he cuts a ridiculous, almost tragicomic figure and emotes his frustration so that we empathize with him and then delight in his freedom.
The rest of the evening continued on with pieces stylistically unrelated. “The Joy it Brings” merged techno- and club-dancing with more traditional modern dance, while “Two for Two,” an almost too-cutesy duet set to Beethoven, played with the idea of opposites. Fadjo’s solo, “Split Down the Middle,” was a more cerebral work in its thoughtful use of gesture and quirky, idiosyncratic hand movements and “Mariah: Part One” was infused with guttural contractions and highly dramatic dance alluding to Graham.
And while ACFDance presents itself as a versatile company, able to perform an amalgam of modern dance styles, some singularity of artistic vision gets lost in the pursuit of trying to do everything. Such an ambitious, overreaching goal shows an enthusiastic zeal, but it can also detract an artist from honing in on the unique brand of dance he or she might have to offer. In short, it seems that Fadjo is still in the process of finding her choreographic voice—a voice that glimmered throughout moments of Right of Way, but one that is sure to emerge more distinctly in future works.
VANESSA MANKO was the former Dance Editor for the Brooklyn Rail.