This past spring, the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation had the pleasure of supplying video footage of Charles Weidman’s Lynchtown to the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine (CNDC) in Angers, France. The video footage was included in the Dance is a Weapon NDG 1932/1955 exhibit in the lobby of the Le Quai performance space from May 16 to June 17 and was free to the public. Julia Jurgilewicz, Charles Weidman Dance Foundation’s administrative assistant, and Weidman Dance alumna Claire Westby, happened to be performing at Le Quai on May 19th with Liz Gerring Dance Company and were able to stop by the exhibit. Julia recounts her tour experience, from exploring the Loire valley to taking Cunningham class at the CNDC with Robert Swinston, and visiting the Dance is a Weapon exhibit:
Getting to Angers, France was an adventure in itself. I was able to dust off my French to change some of the dancers’ train tickets to stay in Paris for a few hours. We locked up our bags at the station, then walked along the Seine river, saw the Eiffel Tower, and got a delicious Parisian breakfast. The train to Angers yielded picturesque views of French countryside chock-full of roaming cows, ancient stone houses, and rolling hills.
Angers itself is a quaint town complete with the glorious Cathédrale d’Angers, the sturdy 13th century Château Angers, and the steady Maine river which clips the town in two. We were fortunate enough to have the first few days off to explore the Loire valley. We took a long van ride through ancient villages to the town of Saumur where we saw the fantastical Château de Saumur and explored and ate lunch at the sprawling Château Villandry.
So far this trip sounds more like a fairy tale than the sometimes grueling, hard work of a dance company’s tour, but we were not without our sweaty rehearsals and long soaks in baths. Liz Gerring Dance Company is an extremely athletic company that allows its dancers to focus on strength and endurance. The company explores non-narrative movement derived from pedestrian gesture and athletic training. The hour-long work we were performing in Angers, Horizon, is a feat of of just that, or as Robert Johnson of New Jersey Arts put it, Horizon “is a dance for heroes.”
Before rehearsals, we had the pleasure of taking Cunningham class from Robert Swinston alongside his company’s dancers. Swinston was appointed the artistic director of the CNDC Angers in 2013, where he teaches Cunningham class, re-stages Cunningham’s dances, and creates his own works. Liz Gerring Dance Company and Swinston’s company were able to show-and-tell their dances in the studio and hang out after rehearsals to compare living and dancing in Paris and NYC. I had a great time practicing my French with these dancers and seeing the juxtaposition of Cunningham and Liz Gerring’s work.
The performance of Horizon took place at Le Quai, an amazing arts space along the Maine River. The center seeks to include dance, theater, opera, world music, and more. The facilities are a treat compared to the often cramped dressing rooms of NYC theaters and there is a great restaurant on the roof of the building. Le Quai is also a hip hang out space for the community; our first day there a skateboard and tattoo festival was going on out front.
After the performance, I had some time to check out the Dance is a Weapon exhibit in the lobby of the building. It was a great exhibition with audio/video media, iconic photos, and colorful information banners. I was excited to see pictures of Charles Weidman and Martha Graham among other modern dance pioneers. Between the exhibit about early American modern dance in a home that features Cunningham’s legacy, and performing work by the next generation of contemporary choreographers, I had an array of dance influences melding to create an amazing experience.
In Liz Gerring’s Horizon, the dancers explore non-narrative, athletic movement to an original soundtrack by Michael Schumacher and set by Robert Wierzel. The collaborative nature of the work is reminiscent of Merce Cunningham’s creations that often incorporated multiple artists, from sound designers like John Cage to visual artists like Andy Warhol. The movement is both contemporary and inclusive of codified modern dance techniques. The NYTimes describes the work as “fluently combin[ing] modern technique with a postmodern and quasi-analytical scrutiny of pedestrians and athletes.” The dancers use similar theories from Weidman technique including fall and recovery, flattening and curving of the spine, and released and suspended movements. At the close of Horizon, I do a series of repeated falls across the stage reminiscent of the falls in Weidman’s Brahms Waltzes.
Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman were interested in how gravity and momentum affected movement, an idea that is explored in rehearsal for Liz Gerring Dance Company. All affectation is stripped away, and we are asked to fall, throw, lunge, run, and jump honestly. While ballet and modern techniques are inherent in our bodies, the movements are results of gravity working for or against us and how much momentum we are allotted. Sometimes we are asked to spring from one shape to the next without “winding up”, or conversely, we are asked to gather all of our energy and hurtle across the space. This cause and effect theory is intrinsic in Weidman’s “kinetic pantomime”, though he played with the order and explored reversing these properties under a narrative context.
When I was studying for my Bachelors of Fine Arts degree at NYU, I had the pleasure of performing Weidman’s Easter Oratorio and Brahms Waltzes. A great lesson I took from learning these works was the importance of timing and duration of movement. A lot of attention was placed on how long a développé or suspension took or how still we were while holding a position. Liz Gerring’s work Horizon is centered around the duration of movement and the sustaining of shapes. Often times the music is adjusted live to our performance of the work as each movement and section can vary slightly in timing. While Weidman used these methods to convey an idea or feeling, Horizon uses timing and duration to give the audience an experience similar to a natural time lapse film- abstract, evolving, and surprising.
* For more detailed information on the characteristics of Humphrey-Weidman technique, see “A Reaffirmation of the Humphrey-Weidman Quality” by Svea Becker and Joenine Roberts, 1983, Dance Notation Journal vol 1 no 1 (available on the internet at the Dance Notation Bureau Theory Bulletin Board).
The end of our tour included a train ride back to Paris where the company parted ways, some for the States and some for more Parisian nights. I was able to do some traveling through Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid. Now all back in NYC, the Liz Gerring Dance Company is now gearing up for the premier of their new work (T)here to (T)here at Baryshnikov Arts Center November 10-12th, 2016.