Review: Nancy Karp + Dancers “fly through the night, and land near dawn” –Oct. 28, 22 Dresher Studio
Updated: Nov 14
Nancy Karp + Dancers celebrates their 40th Anniversary October 28-30, with the world premiere of fly through the night, and land near dawn, an evening-length modern dance piece. The Friction Quartet performs live, nestled in the corner of the acoustically favorable Dresher Ensemble Studio. fly through the night is performed in three sections, each to a different piece of music by contemporary classical composer David A. Jaffe. The third section, from the which the evening takes its title, was commissioned by New Arts Foundation and Nancy Karp + Dancers for this auspicious occasion.
Working for the first time with Jaffe, and renewing long-term relationships with collaborators Lighting Designer Jack Carpenter, and Costume Designer Sandra Woodall, Karp and company create an evening of pure dance and music. The performance is wonderfully free of text, projection or props.
The press release notes that Karp and dancers “used the phenomena of murmuration and the flight patterns of migrating birds as their jumping off point.” The beauty of Karp’s work has always been that one can choose to absorb the dance through the lens of her muse, in this case avian behavior, to apply your own meanings or to enjoy the movement for movement’s sake with equal satisfaction. I begin the evening seeing bird mannerism and flock behaviors and eventually settle into the drama of the music and the dancing with less contextual overlay.
The company of seven dancers begins facing to the side, Jack Carpenter’s warm sidelight glazes them head-to-toe. They step forward and then backward, reminding me of shorebirds following the ebb and flow of the water’s edge.
Woodall’s costume pallet is composed of pastel blues, lavenders, and taupe. The body is the focus, naked arms and fitted leggings ensure we see the shapes the dancers create. Their tops have their own unique cut or embellishment, made of lightweight fabrics that flow and ripple in the breeze.
Calvin Thomas, alone on stage, corkscrews his arms up into the air letting them lead his body in a circle. Dancers whirl across the stage with palms flexed and arms extended to create the widest possible wingspan. The freedom of twirling with arms flung out speaks to me of birds in flight. Six dancers pause in a line against the sky-blue background. They turn their heads thoughtfully side-to-side. Each assesses the situation before simultaneously launching into action with a series of arabesque turns toward the audience. A joyous liberty having overtaken their caution. Sonsherée Giles is alert, a foot against the calf of her standing leg. Bobbing, she gradually bends and straightens the standing leg, falling out of balance and then resuming her bent-leg pose, a shore bird perhaps.
Section Two is performed to Jaffe’s String Quarter for 2 Instruments. The opening music is more somber and reverent. This section explores balance and shapes. Giles stands with a flexed foot leg extended in front of her. She then swings her leg down and through until it is pointed out behind her, all while maintaining her balance on a post-like standing leg. Simonse carries Amy Lewis folded backward, her flexible back bent in a u-shape over his shoulder. They face each other posed with bent elbows pointing at the sky.
Composer Jaffe joins the quartet playing his mandolin and mandocello with the violinists and violist, for the third section. The music is fast and energetic. Arms windmill, bodies bounce, gestures are sharper and leaps higher. Throughout the piece much of the movement is backward, be it running, turning or even leaping the momentum moves the body backward. There is a peacefulness in watching the dancers take long lunging rearward strides.
Nol Simonse and Katie Kruger. Photo from Press Release: John Hefti
A flirty, playfulness fills the stage. Elizabeth Zepeda carries a stiff as a board Giles under her arm like a surfboard. Communicating in their own broad sign language, Kruger and Simonse listen intently to each other’s actions, nodding in agreement. Then as plucky violins play, they perform a unison sequence, which they created during the gestural conversation we just observed.
The music builds to something like a folk dance. Anna Greenberg glides across the stage suspended between Thomas and Simonse. They lift and lower her long prone body as if she is riding the tops of waves. Greenberg enters leaping and turning, a true force of nature. As the music becomes chaotic, all seven dancers fill the space with energy, it is difficult to choose where to look with each vying for our attention. And then out of the confusion, they come together once more for a final unified gaze into the wings. Their flight through the night complete, the stage fades to black.
Reviewed by Jen Norris, October 29, 2022. Corrected 11/14/22
Nancy Karp + Dancers celebrates its 40th Anniversary
October 28-230, 2022
Dresher Ensemble Studio, Oakland, California
Anna Greenberg Sonsherée Giles Katie Kruger Amy Lewis Nol Simonse Calvin Thomas Johnny Cox, understudy Elizabeth Zepeda, understudy
Music Performed By:
David A. Jaffe
Costume Designer: Sandra Woodall