Through its Fresh Tracks program, New York Live Arts (NYLA) offers selected performers a range of opportunities: a fully produced performance followed by a 50-hour residency and professional support programs. The series boasts a remarkable roster of alumni, and this year, a strong and stylistically diverse group of artists joined that list.
During performances held from December 13 to 15, it was exciting to see Fresh Tracks artists representing a variety of genres including classical Indian dance to flamenco, as well as emerging voices in the downtown dance scene.
One memorable work was Michal Samama’s solo The Chicken Memorial, a challenging and compelling exploration of flesh and humanity. Red and yellow cleaning gloves are arranged around the stage like tiny, bizarre monuments. She commands absolute attention, capturing her audience with a direct, steady stare, then pulls one breast out of her electric green, cowl-necked costume. As she covers one eye, and then the other, and slaps her breast back and forth between her hands, she holds her steely gaze, as if daring the audience to look at her exposed flesh.
As Samama continues to undress, moving through states of semi-exposure and eventually to full nudity, her performance breaks apart the sexualization and politicization of the female body bit by bit. Presenting her body parts at odd angles and in unusual arrangements, she emphasizes their very fleshy and animal nature. She takes this a step further by putting the cleaning gloves on her hands and then her feet, giving a disturbing image of human hands where human feet should be while also making her feet look like a chicken’s.
Another work that examined the fleshy and primal nature of the human body was Molly Poerstel-Taylor’s Do beast. Her four captivating dancers—Hadar Ahuvia, Alice MacDonald, Mary Read, and Eleanor Smith—wear costumes by Poerstel-Taylor that alternately expose and cover them. Each dancer belongs to her own world and moves alone, yet they are all kinesthetically and spatially connected.
The piece holds the attention in its first moments, when Vincent Vigilante’s dim lighting only barely allows one to see the dancers beginning to stir. Sam Taylor’s subtle, probing music acts as a roadmap of sorts, guiding the viewer through the tensions and connecting tissue of the work. Paper bag masks, antlers, and sticks used like crutches distort and dehumanize the dancers, though they never lose their raw human urgency.
Franklin Diaz’s EL, a deconstructed, brooding take on flamenco, was also fraught with tension. Diaz is a compelling performer, dancing with an electric strength and a Michael Jackson-like cool. As Diaz moves to live music by Jose Antonio Alvarez, he interacts with two singers, Araicne Trujillo and Glenda Sol Koeraus. They confront Diaz with their song, and his struggle is palpable. Drama and tension are high, but the piece feels incomplete. It reads like a climax without its precipitating events.
Rift, a piece Fresh Tracks artist Megan Kendzior created in collaboration with actor Dylan Kammerer, ended abruptly as well. Kendzior and Kammerer are the primary performers, and four other dancers appear intermittently. They writhe uncomfortably and surge forward in false starts, as if trying to articulate some struggle or conflict.
The most effective moments are the comical ones, when Kammerer and Kendzior make eye contact and seem to acknowledge the complications of their communication with genuine laughter. However, little progress is made in the work. It concludes with a blackout that cuts off Kendzior and Kammerer before they find a way to articulate themselves.
Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie’s In 3 Movements straddles styles. Her movement vocabulary draws primarily from house and break dancing, but unmistakable traces of classical training shine through, lending a unique flair to her choreography. She is honest and straightforward, filling every movement with intent. It is also clear how she earned her nickname: a dynamism and energy explodes out of her petite frame.
She possesses a natural theatricality and an admirable ability to multitask, beginning the piece with a monologue in which she reminisces about her childhood, moving all the while and playing with the timing of words and steps. She puts on a jacket and, with it, a different character. Now she’s all business, but her liveliness gradually returns. As she travels in quick, broad sweeps across the stage, NYLA’s spacious space can hardly contain Asherie’s dexterity and enthusiasm.
Equal in energy yet different in expression was enduring silence, Parul Shah’s contemporary reimagining of Kathak, a classical Indian dance form. Shah performs in the work alongside dancers Mohip Joarder and Ammr Vandal, and all are stunning: Their supple fluidity coupled with blade-sharp accents make for an absorbing kinesthetic experience.
Shah and Vandal also show emotional range in unison moments and in solos, emoting with every fiber of their bodies and faces, expressing frustration, anger, and defiance. Joarder, the only male dancer, however, has a confusingly small role. He appears only for a moment, on one side of the stage with Shah while Vandal performs a solo. Strong movement and emotional content are present in the work, but its structure hasn’t fully been realized. The women’s struggle needs more exploration.
The beauty of the Fresh Tracks program is that it allows for that exploration, through resources that assist artists in developing their perspectives. These choreographers are some to watch.
GARNET HENDERSON is a writer, dancer, and choreographer based in Manhattan.