Intimacy is often found in the middle of the spectrum. We don’t bond as easily with the excitingly out of range or the exhausted remnants of the known as we do with what we feel is moving alongside us, at our own pace. In the performing arts, this middle ground can be represented by so-called “emerging and mid-career artists” – performers whose acuity and experience has taken them beyond the beginner’s platform but who aren’t yet separated from their audiences by blinding fame or massive stages.
New Dance Alliance has provided a venue for these artists for over twenty years with its annual Performance Mix Festival. The festival’s combination of au fait performers and relatively low-capacity venues is a wise way of presenting new work to audiences: it fosters an accessible, engaging, and intimate experience.
This year’s festival was held at the Joyce SoHo from March 26 through April 5. On the first two nights, four choreographers took to the stage to perform solo works. Karen Bernard, Director of New Dance Alliance, opened the shows with Surfing the Shadow. By placing props around the stage—including a house of cards built from snapshots, and logs and lanterns representing a camping trip—and telling their stories, the artist delivered a poignant exploration of family and aging. Bernard is a big woman of middle age. These qualities are often mentioned in reviews of her work, and they do add to her credibility and charm, but she is not gimmicky, and her wit and creativity carried the show on their own.
Cynthia Hopkins stepped out next, barefoot in a spiky black wig. Using the mic cord alternately as lasso, whip, and dance partner, Hopkins spoke to us from her pulpit in the universe of the future about the history of the old human race. The Success of Failure (or, the Failure of Success) begins with a call-and-response sermon, then moves into Hopkins’ original folk-gospel-blues tunes, then to tender storytelling. Hopkins’ work is curious but sensible. She has the skills to create complex but complete characters and plots, and is a natural performer: eager to give, to receive, and to connect. She is a joy to watch.
Montreal’s Nathalie Claude set Hopkins’ bare stage with small stacks of Wonder Bread for Cerveau Fêlé 101 (Broken Brain 101), the second piece in her Madness Trilogy. Wearing white face paint with black circles around her eyes and a yellow straightjacket pantsuit, and with a booming scream and unrelenting stare, it was easy to believe that Claude’s character had gone off the deep end. She marched in place, spitting on the stage; she writhed on a couch while chunks of bread fell out of her pant legs; she punched a mannequin head, cooing to it: “Good girl, good girl.” After the show, my friend said, “The crazy lady was my favorite.”
Layard Thompson’s interpretation of Deborah Hay’s The Runner, which he titled The Warrior, closed the show. Tall and lithe and wearing stiff red tulle, Thompson embodied a fantastic ruler who struts like a peacock and pronounces his judgments in an alien language. Though vibrant and stylish, the dance became repetitive, and by the end, when the warrior was supine on the floor and breathing heavily, it was easy to relate to his fatigue.
All things considered, the Performance Mix Festival is a delight. It gives audiences the chance to experience a variety of brave and committed artists performing new work in a cozy and accommodating venue. It lets us get close to the art that’s burgeoning in our midst, right alongside us.
April Greene, the Rail's dance editor, lives, writes, and bikes in Brooklyn.