For Hee Ra Yoo, choreographer and artistic director of Yoo and Dancers, New York is a web of difficulties, ensnaring even its most optimistic residents. Yet Yoo’s young company took control of the Dixon Place stage June 27th, dancing boldly in the new work “Almost There…” Sharing the stage with a tangle of ropes, the six dancers form a supportive corps, helping one another as they weave their way – and sometimes get stuck – in chaos.
photo: Ji Ye Kim
Yoo and Dancers appropriate doors, walls and railings of the theater for their dancing needs, a measure of command that is a welcome reminder that the company is performing “Almost There…” as a culmination of three months work at Dixon Place’s artist-in-residency program. Dancers hang from the bannisters. They use support beams as anchor points for the carefully choreographed flexible cords that dissect the stage; throughout the piece, a new cord almost always serves as a transition into a new movement phrase or effort.
So progresses Yoo’s “Almost There…” And if the structure is formulaic, it is also a pleasant build of form and energy and sheer stuff onstage. The choreography would benefit from less linear progression, though. Balletic phrases, peppered with Horton hinges and side tilts, are beautiful on the trained dancers but superficial. “Breathing can give an impulse to movement, a notion that is common in my native Korea,” writes Yoo in the program notes. Interestingly, there is no breath connection for the individual or group in this work. Dancers often pause mid-step to sync with a partner or plow ferociously through a phrase to catch the rhythm. Extrinsic movement that stemmed from the limbs actions rather than a subtler core kept the movement skimming the floor and unstable.
It would be interesting to see how “Almost There…” would change if it borrowed the kinesthetic and somewhat aimless quality of its’ most memorable section. This moment is one of the first in the hour-long work; on an empty stage, Lauren Camp sits with her back to a passive coil on the floor. Her attention is rapt, focusing on her right hand that gently becomes a force, compelling her foot to move in tandem with its gesticulations. With singular focus and articulate care for the symmetry of this foot-hand connection, she breathes a calm essence into this solo, and we breathe softly with her. Camp’s winding motions lead her slowly to the unassuming rope. Once acknowledged, the coil enlivens, beckoning and teasing her along its path. And so begins a slow progression of the dancers weaving ropes across the stage, gamely ensnaring themselves even as they simultaneously push against this entrapment.
Oddly enough for a work that largely consists of dancers imprisoning themselves, “Almost There…” never provokes anxiety. One dancer, in a noose of yellow and pink rope, cocks her head at an entrapper (whose hands guiltily paw the strings hanging from her companions neck) and smiles. Dancers maddeningly step into traps, squirm for a moment, and then slip out of the binds. If Yoo is meaning to imply that New York captures idealistic residents in its web, then she also implies that liberation from this web is as easy as simply loosening the knots that you tightened yourself.
"This work is about our collective dream to reach our desires in a modern, chaotic world. The dance emerges from New York City, (and) is a constant reminder of the forces of people in a crowded space," read Yoo’s program notes. As the dancers smile at one another through their apparent difficulties, it becomes clear that the “forces” Yoo mentions are forces for good. She recognizes the support a crowd can bring, rather than the suffocation and detachment that a pessimist may see in a crowd.
“Almost There…” is aptly affirming and uplifting in its final moments.
The music surges. Dancers leap outwards in unison, a firework bursting to a final hurrah. The ropes break, and now unstrung, they lie pathetically on the floor. These were our binds? Our restrictions from our desires? Yoo seems to ask. The dancers join together and smile. They will ascend to their dreams now. If only they have the gumption and wherewithal to leave those ropes on the floor this time.