Young Dance Collective ended their ten year career last weekend with final performances of a show entitled, Sunday, at the 3LD Art and Technology Center. The company, Hannah Cullen, Sophia Orlow, Lev Ratnofsky, Isa Reisner, Cosmo Scharf, Kassandra Thatcher and Kalei Tooman, are all high school seniors. I attended a matinee performance last Sunday with my nine-year-old son, Josiah.
The dances, demonstrating a decade of choreography dating from the first year of the group’s existence to the present time, were interspersed with video footage of the kids when they were starting out as well as recent interview clips expertly shot by company member Cosmo Scharf. The close-up shots of the teens expressing their feelings about coming to the end of the group’s run created a fitting emotional frame for the program. This was about kids, coming of age, moving on.
One could feel the level of interplay between the members. Connected by over half a lifetime of trust and shared exploration, these young adults have co-created a crucible of growth together. Their dances reflected this integrity in their dynamism and overall ability to captivate. Sitting in a packed theater, there was never a moment of shared restlessness or flagging interest in the audience. They had us. It was a privilege and honor to behold the dances, but more so, to know that the underlying event we were witnessing was a magnificent rite of passage. This would likely be the last time these dancers would perform together in this context. Preparing as they all are to go off to their different colleges next year, their lives will take them to their next respective phases of development – an inevitable yet bittersweet change.
And yet the movement itself was surprisingly unsentimental. Employing a fairly diverse and sophisticated modern dance vocabulary, the dancers explored recurring themes of separation, cooperation and awareness of self, at the same time as they danced tentative love stories and early romantic games. For such a wide range of training between the dancers, they functioned as an extremely tight ensemble, fluidly exchanging with one another and presenting cohesive impressions and a thousand beautiful shared moments between them.
Who and what are they channeling, at their young, tender ages? What do we see in them as young artists? The production, expertly crafted by creative director Kim Cullen, offered a truly satisfying multi-media container for the emotional experience of these young people as dancers, and emerging adults. The music, ranging from Sia and Beck to Steve Dorn and Imogen Heap, captured a perfect mix of the edgy downtown art world and the angst tinged emotional swelling of teenage yearning. I found myself incredibly moved by the tender gestures and pairings of the dancers in their solos, duets and ensemble configurations.
Certain moments stand out: the three girls self-consciously stroking their own ponytails, then pulling on the hair of the girl in front of them; the simultaneous fearless athleticism and attentiveness of the boys’ movement; the pushing, pulling and catching one another that wove throughout all of the choreography. Named by her fellow dancer, Cosmo as the only company member likely to go on to a professional career in dance, Hannah Cullen, daughter of Kim, certainly shined with regards to her level of classical dance training – the elegance and subtlety of her lithe movement was at times stunning to behold. Her solo titled, Acrylic, set to Meryn Cadell’s retro tracked story song, The Sweater, displayed a hint of flirty sexiness that she will surely grow into as a woman. What was remarkable, though, is that despite the range in technical facility between company members, there was an overall cohesiveness in the level of focus and quality of delivery that truly earned this group the title of company. No apparent divas in this group. They performed as a collective in the truest sense of the word.
Reflecting on the show afterwards, Josiah remarked that at the beginning, “the movements were kind of random,” but as the performance went on, “the patterns became more sophisticated.” One could see this in the choreography, showcasing a decade in the development of the group. From the beginnings of their articulation of a vocabulary to a steadily growing ability to tell a story, the pieces showed an increasing facility with nuance and multi-dimensionality.
Ultimately, my descriptions will mean nothing to you if you weren’t there. Isn’t that the magic of dance? It’s completely temporal. You experience the kineticism of the movements as you hear the music and feel the series of interactions between dancers flow and shift and bounce from one to the next. It is a ride. You move to the beats with the performers, your breath quickens and catches at certain gorgeous moments. Truly a metaphor for watching our kids grow up and a reminder for us to stay in touch with the endless moments of beauty we experience with them along the way…
In Sunday, the moments of tenderness were for me a distillation of the friendships that have grown with these children as they’ve moved together into adulthood. The melancholy mood of certain movements echoed my knowledge that there is a fleetingness to childhood. These teens were about to say goodbye to the lives they have known together as they launch themselves into their adult years.
In the theater after the show, I looked down at my own son, who has only just recently passed from the phase of naming his age as “eight and three quarters.” I wondered if I will see him up on that stage in another year… Now he is in his last year as a “single digiter.” Indeed. This is a last precious year for him, and for me. Before I know it, we will share our own ten year anniversary as mother and child.
A lot certainly happens in a decade.