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Ariel Rivka Dance's 10th Anniversary Program Offers Up High Art

by Mindy Aloff
September 9, 2017
New York Live Arts
219 W 19th Street
New York, NY 10011
(212) 691-6500
Ariel Rivka Dance — a modern company of eight dancing women, based in New Jersey —celebrated its tenth anniversary in September, a real achievement for an ensemble most of whose members have to juggle their dancing with other (often unrelated) full-time jobs and, in several cases, with new babies as well. The second of two celebratory programs, planned and led by artistic director and choreographer Ariel Rivka Grossman and her husband, composer David Homan, generously gave two fifths of the evening to other choreographers, featuring among the five dances only three works by Grossman herself. Contributing GOZE, a world première, was “fledgling” (the program's word) choreographer Michael Spencer Phillips—a professional dancer over 20 years with many companies in New York, among them RIOULT Dance NY, where Phillips has performed and teaches and for which he has restaged Pascal Rioult's dances since 2002). GOZE proved a useful opener: a low-key yet painstakingly formal quartet to a chordal piano score, played live by Homan, its composer. (Sarah Seger served as assistant to the choreographer.) And a note in the program suggested that there is more to it than formal elegance: “Goze: the visually impaired Japanese women who worked as musicians, traveling from village to village to village in small packs. The Goze were remarkably successful in fighting discrimination accorded to women, the physically disabled, the poor, and itinerants, using their specialized art to connect directly to the commoner public.”

Without the note, this dimension of the dance would be a challenge to discern as theatrical fact; however, the note's themes of feminism and of art as an endeavor with a social function, as a route to healing or emotional comfort, seemed to pervade the evening, especially when Mr. Homan referred to them directly in an affecting tribute speech to his wife's sense of mission in addressing horrific—yet unspecified—current events for her 2017 work for all eight of her dancers, No Words, for which Mr. Homan not only composed the score but played it live on a piano.

Ms Grossman's choreography for all three of her contributions on this program (including the 2011 solo Holly and the 2016 work for the entire ensemble, Variations on a Box) present her dancers carefully as quasi-dramatic figures who veer between energizing action and vulnerable acceptance or sorrow. They can jump and even cavort; however, the afterimage of them is of gravity and a heavy tread, and the humanism that seems to be the choreographer's major focus somehow makes choreographic surprise difficult to achieve. The two recent ensemble dances feature some elaborate lighting by Marika Kent, including light designs for the floor, which add visual interest of a graphic nature to the well-intended yet formulaic relationships and emotional expressions. One wants to like these dances but, in this reviewer's case, to reach that goal demanded mental labor.

For the anniversary season, the Paul Taylor enterprise contributed a vest-pocket version of his 1997 modern-dance milonga, Piazzolla Caldera, performed by six dancers of Taylor 2 in a staging overseen by the group's rehearsal director, Taylor star alumna Ruth Andrien, and enhanced by visits from members of Piazzolla's original cast, who—Andrien said in an intermission conversation—explained to the current young executants the reason for being, dramatic and musical, of each step and action. I happen to enjoy Piazzolla, and I also witnessed some of the rehearsals in which it was made. So, when I recognized that some key details were excised, in order to make it possible for six dancers to perform a work designed for twice that many, I was disappointed, especially by one change that, to me, altered the choreography's very identity. On the other hand, though, the rest of the audience was enthusiastic and either didn't notice the changes or didn't care. The reason, I think, was that the quality of the dancing was so high. Andrien transferred her own peerless musicality as a Taylor dancer to her charges in the next generation, and the partnering in the duets, especially, was a sumptuously flowing, call and response of lightness and gravity that elevated the entire evening into high art.
Ariel Rivka Dance in 'Holly.'

Ariel Rivka Dance in "Holly."

Photo © & courtesy of David Gonsier


Ariel Rivka Dance in 'No Words.'

Ariel Rivka Dance in "No Words."

Photo © & courtesy of David Gonsier


Ariel Rivka Dance in 'No Words.'

Ariel Rivka Dance in "No Words."

Photo © & courtesy of David Gonsier


Ariel Rivka Dance in 'SUSAN.'

Ariel Rivka Dance in "SUSAN."

Photo © & courtesy of David Gonsier


Ariel Rivka Dance in 'SUSAN.'

Ariel Rivka Dance in "SUSAN."

Photo © & courtesy of David Gonsier


Ariel Rivka Dance in 'Undertow.'

Ariel Rivka Dance in "Undertow."

Photo © & courtesy of David Gonsier


Ariel Rivka Dance in 'Undertow.'

Ariel Rivka Dance in "Undertow."

Photo © & courtesy of David Gonsier


Ariel Rivka Dance in 'Variations on a Box.'

Ariel Rivka Dance in "Variations on a Box."

Photo © & courtesy of David Gonsier


Ariel Rivka Dance in 'Variations on a Box.'

Ariel Rivka Dance in "Variations on a Box."

Photo © & courtesy of David Gonsier

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