DraftWork: The Median Movement and Brother(hood) Dance! at St. Mark’s Danspace Project

New York, N.Y. On a beautiful but cold Saturday afternoon I wandered into St. Mark’s Church in the East Village. Danspace Project had, as is their wont, reoriented the sanctuary with marley laid in the center of the space and the audience facing the entrance. The event was a relatively informal one: DraftWork, a works in progress showing curated by Ishmael Houston-Jones that gives dance artists a space to show projects in various stages of development and receive immediate feedback from the audience in attendance. As such, I hesitate to call what you’re reading here anything so formal as a review. Rather, it is a collection of observations paired with an exhortation to wander over to St. Mark’s Church yourself to support the fascinating programming they maintain.

Alex Springer and Xan Burley in an earlier version of "You being Me being You and the Eye" at Judson Memorial Church

Alex Springer and Xan Burley in an earlier version of “You being Me being You and the Eye” at Judson Memorial Church

On the program were two works by two pairs of dancers who come from delightfully disparate, but not unrelated, ends of the contemporary dance spectrum. Brother(hood) Dance! followed The Median Movement; the former is the relatively new partnership of Orlando Hunter, Jr. and Riccardo Valentine, while the latter is the moniker used by longtime collaborators Xan Burley and Alex Springer.

You being Me being You and the Eye can, in its present form, be easily divided into two sections. The first sees Burley and Springer folding and unfolding through their joints, organically redirecting their energy into flocking jetes before breaking apart again to Will Owen’s sound score composed from audio of their rehearsals with live vocables from the performers. Burley is particularly mesmerizing, though Springer quietly matches her point for point; their partnering seems effortless and organic despite the unexpected ways they find to intertwine; he glides her off the floor in a deep plie in second, her legs scissor through his and she descends back to earth as he slides smoothly to the floor.

In the second half, after a quick costume change (which cleverly utilized the unusual type of space at St. Mark’s to compensate for a lack of blackout capability), Burley and Springer are joined by other movers, each of whom bring their own vocabulary to the table. The pair, joined by an ever-growing group, imitate and attempt to replicate the movement they see. While the transition needs to be finessed, as was noted in the post-showing conversation with the artists, the thematic link is fairly strong. The piece as a whole reads to me as a meditation upon how we learn and imitate, Burley and Springer at times attempting to become each other or to at least meet in the middle. The window into the process of the creation of the piece is integral to the performing of the piece itself, aurally in the first section and visually in the second.

Brother(hood) Dance!’s contribution, Afro/Solo/Man, was a delightfully theatrical counterpoint to the abstraction brought by The Median Movement. The piece explores “the identities of individual Black men relating to provocative themes like origins, nourishment, heritage, nature, and technology in the 21st century.” Hunter and Valentine tackle a large number of issues within a relatively narrow time frame, successfully seeming to embody individual stories and wider archetypal roles simultaneously.

Orlando Hunter, Jr. and Riccardo Valentine of Brother(hood) Dance!

Orlando Hunter, Jr. and Riccardo Valentine of Brother(hood) Dance!

Valentine’s turn as a wise old storyteller is mesmerizing in its grounded otherworldliness. Hunter likewise has a frenetic energy that seems to bubble out from his core in fits and starts that emerge as purposefully painful positions or pour out of him in full bodied arcs. When the pair break into phrasework the effect is both that of a breath of fresh air and that of breathless wonder at the ease, strength, and clarity with which they perform. What currently stands as the ending was for me weakest, the last moments of phrasework losing some of the vitality and interest that earlier had defined the piece. While one gets the sense that each small section of the work could be pulled out and expanded into its own piece, the amalgamation of so many narratives was spellbindingly crafted, a whirlwind of color and emotion that was easily carried by the charisma and power of these two performers. Their ability to turn any moment on the head of a pin made the piece work.

All told, I feel as though I’ve discovered not one but three hidden gems. I am as curious to see The Median Movement discover where this piece is headed as I am to see where Brother(hood) Dance! takes their current project (if all goes to plan, they’re hoping to do it as a site-specific work). And to top it off, DraftWork itself is a delightful initiative from Danspace Project that I hope to wander into more often.

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