Ash & Honey: ChristinaNoel & The Creature’s 2015 Winter Gala

Artistic Director ChristinaNoel Reaves & honoree Gus Solomons Jr. Photo credit Quentin Burley

Artistic Director ChristinaNoel Reaves & honoree Gus Solomons Jr. Photo credit Quentin Burley

New York, N.Y. With characteristic generosity, an unflagging sense of fun, and invariably impressive dancing, ChristinaNoel & The Creature held their 2015 Winter Gala at DCTV Thursday evening. On the program were performances by the Little Creatures Ensemble and the Nat Osborn Band, a silent auction, the honoring of the one and only Gus Solomons Jr., and the premiere of artistic director ChristinaNoel Reaves’ newly finished Ash & Honey.

A sense of familiarity pervaded the gala and only grew throughout the evening. Members of The Creature were in and out of the space, mingling regardless of whether or not they had changed into their costumes for their performance. The children who comprised the Little Creatures Ensemble darted about the room, settling in between chairs and against pillars when they were not called upon to dance. Guests were encouraged to ignore the provided seating as they wished (except for when dancing was in progress); Reaves went so far as to call the entire room to the dance floor to participate in a simple improvisation exercise that Gus Solomons Jr., present to receive the Creature Iconoclast Award, traditionally assigns to his composition classes.

ChristinaNoel Reaves, Mary Kate Hartung, and Courtney Baron in "Ash & Honey"; Photo credit Anastasia Meredith-Goujon

ChristinaNoel Reaves, Mary Kate Hartung, and Courtney Baron in Ash & Honey; Photo credit Anastasia Meredith-Goujon

The performance of Ash & Honey was the focal point of the evening. The movement vocabulary ranges from contemporary floor work to caricatured impressions of young girls at a slumber party, simple walking and running to intricate footwork, slinky undulations to references of Latin ballroom dance. This hodge-podge of style and influences forms a surprisingly cohesive whole due to the compositional crafting of Reaves and the sheer force of personality brought by members of The Creature. The performers also act as their own accompanists, adding their voices to the sounds of Aeric Meredith Goujon’s score, not to mention the improvisational monologues and dialogues that blossom out of the situations created by the movement. The amalgamation is one that etches a strangely recognizable image of a life swept along by the present moment, lingering only briefly to consider itself.

Members of The Creature in "Ash & Honey"; Photo credit Anastasia Meredith-Goujon

Members of The Creature in Ash & Honey; Photo credit Anastasia Meredith-Goujon

Though the structure of the work and themes woven throughout the idiosyncratic non-narrative are clearly Reaves’, the dancers of The Creature have their fingerprints smeared across Ash & Honey. Mary-Kate Hartung is an undeniable standout throughout the work, from the tensely animalistic duet with Amadi Washington that opens the piece to her full-throttle attacks of technique in the midst of the ensemble that invariably draw the eye. Her solo has Hartung running throughout the space and in between audience members, sounding a little lost as she monologues just on the other side of comprehensibility. It was here that the title of the piece intuitively came together for me, with Hartung speaking in arcs around the topic of honeybees and the idea that something sweet can burn after the fact. Hartung, throwing herself through space and her fellow dancers, became the anchor of the entire piece, a task she handled with unselfconscious aplomb.

Jonathan Matthews and Amadi Washington in "Ash & Honey"; Photo credit Anastasia Meredith-Goujon

Jonathan Matthews and Amadi Washington in Ash & Honey; Photo credit Anastasia Meredith-Goujon

It is impossible to envision this piece without Jonathan Matthews and Jasmin Simmons, both of whom have uniquely virtuosic movement vocabularies and a penchant for improvisational comedy. Matthews’ solo was wacky and charming, his escalation to near-hysteria pitiable; Simmons goes from sassy and statuesque to heartbreakingly weary and sensual. Courtney Baron and Reaves (who also performs in the work) brought quieter but no less impressive or integral performances to the table.

Having previously seen an earlier version of the piece, I nevertheless found myself impressed by the freshness brought to the work by The Creature. Reaves has tightened the work, eliminating unnecessary lingering; it calls to mind the program note that cautions, “Pause long enough to reflect on the past and you become a memory; You become like Ash.” Though there were a small number of moments I missed (in particular a manipulated duet featuring Baron), these realizations were after the fact and in the moment of performance, the piece felt coherent and complete without them. In the meantime, the dancers have not so much settled into the piece as learned how to more fully inhabit it, leaving the impression that each demand and moment is perfectly met and fulfilled, all in a beautifully, imperfectly human manner.

Lineage and continuity were themes present throughout the evening. From the delighted but intensely focused performances by Reaves’ students to Solomons expressing his pleasure in getting to watch a new generation of movers and shakers emerge from the young adults he taught in their college years, there was always some reminder that breaking boundaries in this art form is a tradition. Solomons himself credits the compositional exercise through which the audience was led to his composition teacher, Robert Ellis Dunn. And, sitting right at the edge of the dance floor, the children who had begun the evening showing off their dance skills watched and imitated The Creature as they danced Ash & Honey with an insatiable curiosity and a tangible delight for learning.

Maddie Irmen in "Ash & Honey"; Photo credit Anastasia Meredith-Goujon

Maddie Irmen in Ash & Honey; Photo credit Anastasia Meredith-Goujon

The cycle of learning and discarding and creating and teaching is more vital to the dance world than anything else. With groups like ChristinaNoel & The Creature determinedly pursuing and growing their own unique voices—both literally and figuratively—I would like to think that the cycle is passing through good hands.

The cycles faithfully continue and we run to make sense of what is happening, we run to catch up…

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Courtney Escoyne is an associate editor at Dance Magazine. A graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts Department of Dance, her writing can also be read in Pointe and Dance Teacher, and on her blog, Thoughts From a Ballet Nerd.

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