Song and Dance

Claudia La Rocco at Movement Research’s spring festival

New York

Left: Nora Ejaita performing at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery. Right: Jill Sigman performing at On Stellar Rays. (All photos: Daniel Clifton)

ROUGHLY TWENTY-FOUR HOURS INTO “ROLL CALL,” Movement Research’s ten-day spring festival, the choreographers Megan Byrne and Will Rawls sat hunkered down in their booth at the Williamsburg diner Relish. They looked both wired and spent, he wolfing down a cheeseburger and she nursing a spartan coffee as they examined guest lists in between the night’s activities: an earlier toast at the Black & White Project Space and, in a mere half hour, “Internet Killed the Video Star,” a showing of experimental, low-tech dance films at MonkeyTown. (The informal evening drew an eclectic range of artists, including the composer Christopher Lancaster, currently working with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and the writer and choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones, a veteran of the Movement Research scene and the current board president.) “There’s the shape we have in mind for this festival and the shape it’s going to take,” Rawls said. “As curators, we’re going to spend most of our time in between those two places.”

Movement Research events are the ultimate in DIY exercises—a world away from more staid institutional festivals. Each year, guest curators (this round included Michael Mahalchick and Regina Rocke in addition to Rawls and Byrne) are given a shoestring budget of twelve thousand dollars, a mandate that half of this must go to artists’ fees, and free rein to craft their vision. This year’s festival, typically rough around the edges, has been notable for its many nods toward inclusivity and openness—a welcome shift for a grassroots organization that can often feel like an insider affair.

“It seems like a small club of people that haul out some old dinosaur from the Judson-era and then do some improv,” one choreographer quipped. She was, however, excited by the possibilities of “Recessional,” a Sunday-afternoon walking tour of arts spaces on the Lower East Side, beginning with a brief musical offering by Bora Yoon at the New Museum’s Sky Room and featuring one performance per stop. A crowd soon filled the airy room, dotted with Movement Research and museum staffers, choreographers and visitors to “Younger than Jesus” who stumbled into the show—a few of the latter trickled into the “Recessional,” whose ranks waxed and waned as the meandering group threaded its way through the neighborhood.

Left: Bora Yoon at the New Museum. Right: Lizzie Scott performing at Rachel Uffner Gallery.

It felt like a beginning, exuberantly hopeful yet conceptually tentative in its marriage of dance and visual art. In the past few years, as biennials like Performa have spurred interest in performance, many New York choreographers have expressed ire over the art world’s failure to acknowledge common ground. “It’s a question of visibility. What a lot of dancers do speaks directly to what visual artists are doing,” said Mahalchick as we walked along Rivington Street behind our route guide, a strutting, thigh-high black pleather platform-wearing performance artist named Ms. Oops. “It makes me batty that Performa discounts the contribution made by the dance community, as if dance doesn’t have a spot at the table.”

Some dealers, like Candice Madey, who chose a location with a downstairs performance space for her gallery On Stellar Rays, seem prepped for change. On Saturday, Jill Sigman occupied the small room, her half-naked body sunk into, and eventually disrupting, a pile of paint-hardened balls of fabric resembling overripe organic matter. As her body stirred and arched, onlookers jostled and snapped pictures, like visitors to a zoo. I remembered, amusingly, the choreographer Trajal Harrell describing a piece in which his performers took Ambien, a response to being unable to control the gallery crowd as he would a theater. (This preceded Chu Yun’s “sleeping beauty” piece in “Younger than Jesus” by a few years.)

It’s unclear what sort of bridge results from an event like “Recessional.” But at Rachel Uffner’s gallery down the street, an alluring synergy bloomed between Josh Blackwell’s whimsical works on paper depicting colorful items of clothing and The Styrene Fantastic, a work by Lizzie Scott for two female performers, who alternately hoisted and flopped on their unwieldy Styrofoam-filled garments.

“It’s interesting to see the interaction between my static work and something kinetic,” Blackwell said. Nodding emphatically, Scott added, “It’s where art needs to go: to take into account all that has happened in dance in the past fifty, or one hundred, years.”