In Between, A Dance Film Series, Delivers Nuanced Relationships

New York, N.Y. When I was invited to Dixon Place earlier this fall to attend and review the premiere of In Between, a trilogy of short dance films by director Katie Sadler and choreographer Anna Rose*, I assumed that this article would be about endings. The creators describe the series as “an exploration of the dying moments of relationships,” so it seemed to follow. But In Between is far more nuanced than that, and, as was made clear by the solos danced at the premiere by the three women who appear in the films, not about endings at all.

Madeline Jafari sets the scene for Threnody. Photo by Cassidy Wagner, Courtesy Anna Rose

Madeline Jafari sets the scene for Threnody. Photo by Cassidy Wagner, Courtesy Anna Rose

Downstage right, there’s a little side table holding flowers nestled next to an armchair. Madeline Jafari enters with the unselfconscious air of a person settling in for an evening alone in their own apartment. Earrings come off, hair is pulled down and tied back again. She leaves the room and returns with a nondescript bottle and glass. She pours herself a drink but stands restlessly, finally tugging on the white men’s dress shirt that’s been resting on the back of the chair. She buries her nose in the collar before wrapping it tighter around herself, uncuffing the sleeves and then shifting her focus to the screen that dominates the upstage wall as she settles on the chair, knees pulled to her chin.

Jared McAboy and Madeline Jafari in a still from Threnody. Photo courtesy Anna Rose

Jared McAboy and Madeline Jafari in a still from Threnody. Photo courtesy Anna Rose

Threnody, the first of the three films, takes place in what appears to be the lobby of a pricey hotel or decadent theatre—everything in frame oozes wealth. Jared McAboy, already sans suit jacket, rolls up the sleeves of his white dress shirt; Jafari reclines on a staircase in a black dress. McAboy crosses the landing behind her, tipped forward as he repeatedly flicks a bladed hand, the wrist motion reminiscent of throwing dice. It feels old-fashioned, nostalgic—as though the pair wants to emulate Fred and Ginger—but the Billie Holiday soundtrack suggests something less genteel beneath the surface. She won’t meet his eyes; he lifts her over his shoulder rapidly, then falls when she disengages; he catches her shoulder in an unsupported plank, then drops her. Jafari rises and finally looks at him. They embrace and begin an easy, listless two-step, but the hold is awkward: Her left upper arm hooks over his right shoulder, his right arm dangles as he looks away. The camera focuses on Jafari; it’s impossible to miss the sparkly ring on her left hand, or how wholly disconnected the pair are even as they’re pressed heart to heart. It seems they don’t know any other way to be. Dips and catches feel rote and uncomfortable; when McAboy, equal parts distant and possessive, carries her across the length of a long corridor, her feet dangling, or down an ornate staircase, her legs around his hips, it feels as though they aren’t in the same room.

Madeline Jafari performs a solo choreographed by Anna Rose. Photo by Cassidy Wagner, Courtesy Rose

Madeline Jafari performs a solo choreographed by Anna Rose. Photo by Cassidy Wagner, Courtesy Rose

But that isn’t to say that Jafari is passive. She takes the lead when the pair separates for snatches of deceptively simple, jazz-infused phrasework, then tackles McAboy to the floor. When the music shifts from “Fine and Mellow” to “I’m a Fool to Want You,” she falls into him only to stride away. He follows her up the stairs, but she vanishes from frame when he tries to catch her head in his hands. Shaking, she allows him to embrace her from behind, flinching away and turning into him in the same movement. His hands stroke her hair, linger over her collarbones as she strains gently against their hold. Onstage, Jafari lowers her feet to the ground as she watches her lover and herself on screen, her heels beating into the floor in time with the music until the film cuts to black. By the time Holiday sings “If your heart/never could yield to me/Then I’d rather/rather have nothing at all,” she’s shed McAboy’s button-down to dance through her memories. She mimics a brittle dip with an invisible partner, wipes off her cheek, hits the heels of her hands to her chin, then succumbs, trancelike, to sway to the beat with an absent other. But she grows determined, pressing down her own wrist as McAboy did before slapping the interfering hand away, accenting the music’s percussive line with the sound of her feet driving into the floor. When last we see her, she’s moving inside of the beat, eyes half-lidded as she exits stage left, dancing on her own.

Berit Ahlgren introduces Quell with a solo choreographed by Anna Rose. Photo by Cassidy Wagner, Courtesy Rose

Berit Ahlgren introduces Quell with a solo choreographed by Anna Rose. Photo by Cassidy Wagner, Courtesy Rose

The stage begins to fill with fog. Alone in a spotlight stands Berit Ahlgren, eyes closed as her arms reach overhead, then curve over as she melts into a backbend. The light clears when she opens her eyes. There are sudden lunges, details that emerge and dissipate almost too quickly to register, a moment in which time slows for Ahlgren to pretzel her limbs into the floor, her right hand tracing a contour into the insubstantial atmosphere. She seems to stumble at the edge of a cliff. Her arms and shoulders try to separate from her torso and hips, her head showing the strain, before her hands catch in the air as though to suspend her from the ceiling. Moments of reach are interrupted when she instinctively protects her head. She floats her spine backward and twists offstage, taking the space that seemed only to exist in her own mind, composed of her inscrutable concerns, with her.

Berit Ahlgren and Justin Faircloth in a still from Quell. Photo courtesy Anna Rose

Berit Ahlgren and Justin Faircloth in a still from Quell. Photo courtesy Anna Rose

And then, the screen goes white. Pale, dense fog blows away to reveal Ahlgren and Justin Faircloth lying on their backs in an unremarkable, empty space. That blankness could extend infinitely, yet the world of Quell feels cold, claustrophobic. This is partly down to editing (credited to Madeline Stedman)—tight, eerily steady shots are interrupted with rapidly flashing close takes that evoke helpless flashbacks—and partly a result of the frenetic energy Ahlgren and Faircloth radiate, even in perfect stillness. There’s a knowingness to the way they handle each other’s bodies, in the way Faircloth accommodates her when, from a simple hug, Ahlgren tucks her knees into the creases of his hips so he takes her weight. But that well-worn pliancy can harden to brittleness in a blink, never more so than when Ahlgren blocks Faircloth’s fingers as they jab down toward her face, a gesture that appears almost every time she goes to walk away. Both fall, repeatedly; sometimes they rise on their own, sometimes one helps piece the other back together. One of the last times he stares down at her for an unsettling moment before slowly pressing hands against her mouth and sternum. She grabs him to stand, her head tucked against his chest. Ultimately, she keeps flashing back, blocking his hands, until the two of them fall prone and remain that way.

Anna Rose performs a self-choreographed solo to introduce Prelude. Photo by Cassidy Wagner, Courtesy Rose

Anna Rose performs a self-choreographed solo to introduce Prelude. Photo by Cassidy Wagner, Courtesy Rose

The third and final solo begins in a space between two heartbeats. Anna Rose, the choreographer, whips into view downstage left, arms entangling as she clutches at her shoulder for a suspended moment. She scuttles back and sweeps into broad lunges and through deep plies as though blown on a violent wind. Her arms are outflung as though she is letting something go; her eyes track her hands like she wants desperately to clutch onto something immaterial, to make it stay. She stills as her fingertips trace a path over her ribcage, but the next moment she falls and lunges in the opposite direction. She gusts offstage as rapidly as she came, the shortest solo by far but by no means the least powerful.

Stanley Gambucci and Anna Rose in a still from Prelude. Photo courtesy Rose

Stanley Gambucci and Anna Rose in a still from Prelude. Photo courtesy Rose

Rose’s solo could easily lead you to believe that the film to follow would show the most tempestuous relationship of the three. But Prelude is of a different tenor entirely, all breathtaking wide shots and lingering close-ups in which relatively little movement carries infinite significance. First we see a distant hill, in autumn. In slow-motion, Rose and Stanley Gambucci rise over it and into view, running hand-in-hand, strides perfectly matched. The film cuts to the pair in a moment of stillness, Rose folded in on herself to perch on Gambucci’s thigh, their gazes locked and knowing; then again, their poses swapped, Rose rooted into the earth, solid and stable. We see them as individual entities, dancing on either side of a gray tree. Gambucci’s impossibly long limbs circle wildly, arms threading through each other until the weight of their head pulls them to fall. Rose kneels in the browning grass, studying a hand passing through sunlight as she arches this way and that, as if she were made of leaves caught in a fickle breeze.

Anna Rose and Stanley Gambucci in a still from Prelude. Photo courtesy Rose

Anna Rose and Stanley Gambucci in a still from Prelude. Photo courtesy Rose

But mostly, we see the two of them together, settled and sure. Details are shown not with desperation, but with the exquisite, almost-obsessive attention of a new lover: hands sliding together, a forehead touching the back of a wrist, the fit of one’s cheek against the other’s neck. Every frame is suffused with an almost-unbearable tenderness. At certain moments I entertained the thought of illness, a more somber undertone to the gentleness with which Rose handles Gambucci’s body as she supports a precarious balance, the dying leaves that fly in their wake. Or perhaps it’s simply a love that could only ever last a season. But it doesn’t matter, I decide, watching the pair part, ever so slowly, fingertips and then gazes lingering until the last possible moment before turning away. What they’ve captured is two individuals taking care of each other for the moments, however fleeting, that they can. As Rose runs back over the hill alone, she leaves with us a deep certainty that she is going to be okay.

They all are, I’d like to believe. In Between isn’t, after all, about endings. It’s about the moments that linger, the memories you helplessly replay or try to snatch from time when confronted with a choice between staying and going. It’s those memories that make up a relationship, that make up a life—but as evocatively as Rose, Sadler, and their collaborators conjure up these near-endings, we never doubt that these women have lives that continue off-screen. That’s no small feat when working with such an abbreviated running time, and I, for one, hope to see more collaborative work from these artists in the near future.

*Disclosure: I attended New York University’s
Tisch School of the Arts with Anna Rose and her performers.

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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.

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