Emerging Choreographer’s Series: Mare Nostrum Elements & LPAC Present Rohan Bhargava, Marissa Brown

Nico Gonzales in Rohan Bhargava's The Devil's Advocate

Nico Gonzales in Rohan Bhargava’s The Devil’s Advocate

Queens, N.Y. Last week, on a cold, rainy Tuesday, I ventured out to LaGuardia Performing Arts Center to catch the latest works to be produced by the Emerging Choreographers Series. The result of a partnership between LPAC and Mare Nostrum Elements, the ECS provides up and coming choreographers space and mentorship to create and present new work. As with any concert bearing “emerging” in the title, I was equal parts apprehensive and excited to see what had been produced. I was most struck by the group works by Kris Seto + Shoey Sun and Marissa Brown and the show-stopping solo created by Rohan Bhargava that ended the evening. Though I unfortunately missed the opening piece by Pavel Machuca Zavarzin, on the whole I was impressed with the work, the commitment of the performers, and the high level of production provided by LPAC.

Youlmae Kim in Kris Seto + Shoey Sun's Dis/Configure (excerpt)

Youlmae Kim in Kris Seto + Shoey Sun’s Dis/Configure (excerpt)

ECS alumni Kris Seto and Shoey Sun collaborated to create Dis/Configure, a comedic yet tragic portrait of what perfection looks like in a world where a person’s identity on social media sometimes takes precedence over personhood. The opening gaff of the excerpt, with a single dancer moving various body parts into and out of a spotlight with childlike cries at the contact with the light got well-deserved chuckles from the audience and set the wacky but subtly unnerving tone. I am undecided whether to term the work delightfully strange or strangely delightful (sequined face masks were prominently featured), but regardless it was a beautifully danced and articulate commentary on the nature of human connection in the age of the smartphone.

Marissa Brown's Wherever you are, this one's for you

Marissa Brown’s Wherever you are, this one’s for you

Marissa Brown’s Wherever you are, this one’s for you featured what I would say was the most beautiful dancing of the evening. A score of oldies songs about love and longing was punctuated by brilliant bursts of physicality that were contemporary in form yet carried the feeling of slow dancing alone to an old radio broadcast. Though the work felt very internal, as though the performers were not entirely in the same space, Brown’s meditation on courtship rituals and those lonely moments of doubt was infinitely relatable and something I would gladly watch again.

Psychopaths Welcome, as the title might suggest, is a thought-provoking piece by Jacqueline Dugal questioning the definition and proliferation of psychopathy in modern society. Dugal made use of a larger cast to create images that were at turns mesmerizing, discomfiting, sexy, and uncomfortable.

Jaqueline Dugal's Psychopaths Welcome

Jaqueline Dugal’s Psychopaths Welcome

Tony Bordonaro and Jenna Sofia collaborated on and performed a visually rich dance-theatre piece. Poisoning the Prophets seemed to be an absurdist take on a film noir detective story–I say seemed because much of the work was ultimately unintelligible, sometimes, I think, unintentionally so. This may have been a result of an imbalance between volume levels of the sound system and the performers. Not my personal cup of tea, but with legibly spoken text this could really become something.

For the Love of Music was an enjoyable and cohesive piece by Natalia Roberts set to R&B and soul classics. Taken at face value, it is a fun thing to watch, but surrounded by work which all had definitive points of view I found myself wondering if I was missing some deeper meaning. If not, as the title seems to imply, I applaud the lovely dancing and commitment demonstrated by the cast.

Mirko Giordano and Linda Bombeli in What nobody sees

Mirko Giordano and Linda Bombeli in What nobody sees

What nobody sees has the potential to be incredibly impactful. Choreographer Mirko Giordano is joined by Linda Bombeli to sketch a fleshed out portrait of a dysfunctional relationship. The performances were intensely felt, but I found that the work was at its absolute best in silence, the chosen music subtracting from the intensity and subtlety of the performers.

Guest choreographer Henry Holmes presented wwwforever.dance. The piece read as a meditation upon the strange rules for likeability and acceptance in the context of social media, the performers returning to a visual and aural motif of a Facebook ‘Like’ throughout. The work felt shallow but strange, which I think was precisely the point as it left the movement rife with meaning. It doesn’t matter if you like this, it seemed to say. You’ll eat it right up anyway.

Rohan Bhargava’s The Devil’s Advocate closed the show, and for good reason. Nico Gonzales enters the space in a dress shirt and boxers. He looks delightfully self-conscious upon realizing he has an audience, and proceeds to dress hurriedly. He picks up an old-fashioned briefcase, seems to take a deep breath and shake himself as he stands in shadow, and then it begins.

Nico Gonzales in Rohan Bhargava's The Devil's Advocate

Nico Gonzales in Rohan Bhargava’s The Devil’s Advocate

The too-familiar opening notes of Nina Simone’s Sinnerman echo through the space, and Gonzales proceeds to effectively lose his mind for the next ten minutes. Bhargava has set himself a near-impossible task in taking on this music for a solo piece, not only because it is such a textured piece of music but also because the mere mention of the word ‘sinnerman’ to anyone at all familiar with the dance world immediately brings to mind the men’s trio from Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. And yet Bhargava’s choreography and Gonzales’ audaciously unselfconscious performance not only met the music, but fulfilled it brilliantly.

Nico Gonzales in Rohan Bhargava's The Devil's Advocate

Nico Gonzales in Rohan Bhargava’s The Devil’s Advocate

The high energy, extraordinarily specific movement did not always match the music precisely and was all the more powerful for it. We see Gonzales go from a frighteningly charming, well-dressed man to an unapologetic madman unraveling in increasingly frenetic displays of technical prowess that never seem superfluous. In fact, the entire work has a delightfully improvisatory feel to it, a credit to Gonzales’ phenomenal control over how he affects a room. Whether skidding from one end of the stage to another, holding his tie between his teeth, spewing decks of playing cards, or staring at the audience in delicate stillness, Gonzales makes certain that you cannot look away. The final image, of Gonzales striding slowly towards the audience with the glimmer of an empty smile playing on his face, is haunting. Bhargava has created a powerful monologue worth seeing, and I can only hope that I will be fortunate enough to catch a second viewing at some point in the future.


All images by Gisella Sorrentino/Gaze Photography. Courtesy Mare Nostrum Elements.

Henry Holmes' wwwforever.dance

Henry Holmes’ wwwforever.dance

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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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