By Allison Bohman
On September 4th at 7:30pm and September 5th at 4:00pm and 7:30pm, The Duets Project took stage in Hartwell Dance Theater at The College at Brockport: The State University of New York. This unique show featured nationally recognized faculty from colleges and universities across Western New York State who were invited to apply for funding to perform with a duet partner of their choice, to be created by a recognized choreographer from out of this region.
Funded by NYS Dance Force, this project was directed by Brockport Professor Emerita, Jacqueline Davis. In addition, three distinguished New York City curators selected the seven diverse duets that came to life on the Brockport stage. Furthermore, to accompany the fierce dancing and choreography that hit the stage this past weekend, The Duets Project also featured master classes and panel discussions at The College at Brockport throughout the week.
The show started out with an immediate redefining of the notion of a danced duet. “Barzakh” featured the stunning dancing of Brockport faculty member Vanessa VanWormer who eloquently danced with the music Hilary Glen was playing on stage with her cello. Despite there only being one traditional dancer on stage, it was clear how both VanWormer and Glen were dancing with one another through their shared embodiments of the movement and music. There were even moments where Glen, although sitting on a stool playing a cello, would lean to one side with her bow, making clear the shared relationship between the performers of this duet. VanWormer started off puppet like, hanging from strings on the stage, while Glen played a lively allegro to start the piece off. It was no coincidence that both performers used “strings” in one way or another—VanWormer in her dancing, and Glen in her playing. The visual set of the stage, designed by Brad Parquette, was also quite striking and contributed to the atmosphere of the entire piece.
“Mixed Marriage” was a rhymically captivating duet, danced by Cheryl Johnson (Brockport), and a tap dancing video image recording of herself on the backdrop of the stage! “2.5.1994” was passionately performed by Cynthia J. Williams (Hobart and William Smith Colleges) and her daughter Kat McCorkle. This piece explored the mother-daughter relationship from multiple images and perspectives. As an audience member, the intimacy of their real-life mother-daughter bond shined through in their dancing, and made it an especially touching piece to watch.
Next up, two Brockport faculty members, Mariah Maloney and Stevie Oakes took the stage in “Rearrangement (Excerpt).” With lit water fountains onstage to accompany the environment of their dancing, this piece featured a constant rearrangement of the performers in space. Most notable, was the focus each dancer demonstrated. Even though they were not always dancing together, a constant relationship between the two performers was always felt.
“politics of BE nice (Working Title),” choreographed by Kendra Portier with dancers Anne Burnidge (University at Buffalo) and Elisha Clark Halpin, featured upbeat music and captivating movement material that was unlike any of the other pieces of the evening. This dance was an experiment in long distance dance making. In other words, the choreographer and dancers were not in the same physical space until a few days before the performance. The high quality of the dancing and commitment of the performers in the show however, definitely exemplified that long-distance dance making, can certainly be successful!
“Together” was danced beautifully by Heather Roffe (Faculty, Nazareth College) and Courtney World. The dancers, who were literally attached to each other the entire piece, explored virtuosic and dynamic movements while keeping at least one hand in the other’s pocket. This is no easy feat, but both dancers were strong, focused and articulate in their bodies and it made for an absolutely breath-taking performance of complexity.
Closing the show with a bang was “Firebird/Mating Season,” choreographed by New York City’s Arrie Davidson (aka Faux Pas le Fae). This energetic and passionate piece featured the outstanding dancing of Brockport faculty member, Stevie Oakes, with Meghann Bronson. Described by the choreographer, this piece was a sensuous, gender-bending pas de deux that investigated the desire of desire itself.
The Duets Project undoubtedly was a demonstration of creativity and diversity in the field of dance. While redefining perhaps traditional notions of what a “duet” should be, this show offered a variety of interpretations of the complex nature of a dance for two.