Unleashed in Queens, Groovy Chaos From Los Angeles
Gia Kourlas, New York Times
Gia Kourlas, New York Times
An anthem has popped up in Queens — as rousing as one should be, but danced not sung. It feels like a rite of spring.
Often in contemporary dance, the expressiveness of the body — and especially the face — is kept under wraps. Dancers stay in a neutral space of impassivity. But in her delightful new “Anthem,” the choreographer Milka Djordjevich presents an evening of dance that celebrates theatricality with a brazen, sensual and blessedly chaotic force.
“Anthem,” which began a 10-day run at the Chocolate Factory on Wednesday night, takes place on a slightly raised square parquet floor, with the audience surrounding all four sides. Laurel Atwell, Jessica Cook, Dorothy Dubrule and Devika Wickremesinghe enter from a corner and trail across the stage in a conga line.
Using the precise form of a folk dance with an ambient, funky score by her longtime collaborator, Chris Peck, Ms. Djordjevich challenges that idea of neutrality as her stellar dancers use their feet, encased in soft jazz shoes or bootees, to brush the floor with repetitive strokes and low kicks. As they clap their hands together or slap one another’s hands, evoking girlhood games, they spin in and out of their square, sometimes peeling away into a single line before moving back into formation.
Naomi Luppescu, the costume designer, and Baille Younkman, credited with assistant costume design, create a rich palette as the dancers — hair down and wearing lipstick, they are unabashedly feminine — weave across the stage in gold and lavender velvet, with a peach top here and crimson pants there. It’s as if on a warm night, they casually floated into a party in Los Angeles, where Ms. Djordjevich, a former New Yorker, now lives, and decided to get away from it all by sneaking down to the basement to perform a square dance. (“Anthem” is a co-commission of Los Angeles Performance Practice and the Chocolate Factory.)
The movement itself is hypnotic, but their half-smiles and eye contact throw the rigidity of the choreography off-balance. In between claps, they pat their buttocks or breasts in time with the beat. What’s enlightening is how in control they are — and, by extension, Ms. Djordjevich is too.
The colorful lighting, by Madeline Best, shifts into something starker and more austere as the dancers pair off and fall backward in slow motion. There are pelvic thrusts as they balance on one another and slow rolls across the floor. But then the music’s pulse quickens again and their latched arms and high-energy kicks transform them into something like the four cygnets from “Swan Lake” — only more louche, and instead of an chilly pond, the setting is a beach house just before dawn.
There is a dramatic break when the women collapse onto the floor in panting states of disarray. When they rise back up and reclaim their dance, they are messier and sweatier; a stickiness pervades their once pristine clothes as they take turns running behind the spectators, removing their shoes and tossing them onto the stage.
They pause their wildness to take a last tour of the audience, pausing and smiling at each member before exiting in glee. Running, jumping and twirling, they pass under the doorways, now brightened with white lights that lead to the theater’s front door. As their dancing spills onto the sidewalk and out of view, it’s as if their witchy ritual is complete: They are perfectly unleashed.
Gia Kourlas for The New York Times, May 17, 2018.