writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

A Sensual Intellect at Play

Nejla Y. Yatkin / NY2 Dance & Guests
Dance Place
Washington, DC
Saturday, November 8, 2003

by George Jackson
copyright © 2003
George Jackson

Nejla Yatkin brings to the stage an exotic air, an erotic note and an artistic intellect that's stiletto sharp. Even in something so modern dance classical as Chaconne, the solo to Bach violin music that Jose Limón choreographed for himself in 1942, Yatkin's qualities were apparent. Surprisingly, they didn't seem impositions in this context but functioned in harmony with the human nobility and sense of duty to art that Limon likely wanted to convey. After all, back when Chaconne was new, Limón himself was an unusual import and, for a male, an exceptionally sensual figure on the American stage. When Baryshnikov danced this solo here a couple of seasons ago, one became aware of his superb precision, phrasing and dynamic but the only life traits were the nobility and duty. Baryshnikov's was a very pure embodiment of the Limón and, of course, he also had to deal with his own, quite different body -- short and compact. Yatkin's tall frame is closer to Limón's, yet I suspect that her performance was very much her own, even though she wasn't the first woman to have ventured onto this choreographic ground. I'd never seen her dance so fully as she did Saturday night. Almost all of her anatomy was brought into active, coordinated motion with only the mid-torso sometimes seeming restrained. In the solo's famous tilting pose, Yatkin leaned and stretched an awesome length. Throughout the piece, she engaged surrounding space, embracing it in her arms, furling it as she struck attitudes, brushing against it with confidence and perhaps even pleasure as she reached upward. Her long arms were softly strong. In the footwork section of the solo in which heels seemed to click and ones attention was drawn to what was happening at the ankles and toes, Yatkin seemed not to be cutting through space but gathering it in and folding it at ground level, executing this task as if she were arranging cloth at the base of an altar and doing it quickly, expertly without having to stoop and use her hands. Chaconne was a welcome surprise and I look forward to Yatkin hosting more choreographers from the past.

Both of the Mosaic program's two other pieces were by Yatkin. Journey to the One, a Tango seemed familiar in part but I didn't remember it being as developed before. Its title was quite literal. Heard were tango music, tango silence and other music (by Cesaria Evora, Astor Piazolla, Sezen Aksu and Elliot Hugenthal), and more dancers appeared more of the time at the work's front end than in the last extended scene in which their number was whittled down to one. This was a playful work as it opened, some of the fun being not strictly tango but full of the tango's teasing. A red rubber ball served as a unifying device although by the time of the finale its presence was rather a disservice. We first saw the ball when it was rolled out and taken by a young, not very dressed woman. She moved through cubistically angled positions on the floor, tied her body into knots, loosened them and ran the ball sensually over herself as she stretched. It reminded me of Eve and the apple, as Gaugin might have painted them on a south seas island. Three other women joined Eve and each wanted the apple for herself. They strutted like smart chicks, they preened like Hollywood goddesses and, when Paris entered they tossed him the apple. He was a Paris less from Homeric legend than out of West Side Story, who played basketball of a sort, first alone and then with two buddies. Alone again, Paris experienced his great encounter -- She. Their relationship, more serious than what happened before, was shown in a rapt duet and positions caught in flagrante delecto between blackouts. She, left alone, pondered about herself in an intense solo. In a brief finale, balls, apples, cherries and all sorts of round objects rained down on the full cast.

There was bright, intelligent choreography throughout Tango, from the Eve solo through the Great Encounter and into the concluding solo for She. Yatkin, as the She figure, explored her technical abilities systematically, although they never came together as completely as in the Limón work. She had strength -- holding balances, shifting weight and even supporting her man -- but remarkably it was matched with a softly cushioned quality. Never absent were the slightly foreign air, the sensuality, and that one saw her thinking. As the man, the Paris figure, Rafael Perdomo used to be dominated by Yatkin. He had emancipated himself this time, but at what price? The mustache he wore had the effect of pulling down his face so that he seemed shorter than before, if sturdier. There was more weight on his torso. Mostly, though, he had abandoned the gentle, contemplative quality that was so distinctive but a short while ago. As a composition, Tango deserves further work. The shift from the playful to the more serious seemed half hearted. The red ball became superfluous in later scenes and dropping all those balls in the finale made a cheap ending. Fixing these things would help to give the actual choreography its due.

Dearriving was about journeys of discovery. The concept undoubtedly owed a nod or two to African coming-of-age quests and the German Erziehungsroman, the education novel. The piece opened with a terrific solo for Yatkin but its group sections were even less finished than anything in Tango. Yatkin was first seen behind her shadow on a screen, as the shadow's dim Dopplegånger. The pair moved slowly across the stage from right to left, halting on occasion like figures in a frieze. We saw them as silhouettes in profile and they had an antique quality due to their swastika poses and high Egyptian headgear. When Yatkin emerged fully into the light, the headgear was seen to be a patterned cloth turban. She wore an elaborate, ample garment of similarly printed cloth. Her movement, to the plaintive tones Harold Anderson's mix of natural and man-made instruments, looked ancestral. It was like the ritual that had evolved later to become bellydancing, snake charmer's dancing and other supple forms. In this piece, which called for a more apparent breaking point at the waistline, Yatkin's torso wasn't restrained. The cloth she wore was involved in the choreography and a very effective passage consisted of steadily unwinding her high turban.

In the group sections of Dearriving, the idea seemed to be showing journeys of individuals and small groups in contrast to each other. However, the choreography ambled and then dragged. The counterpositioning of movement vectors wasn't clear. Yatkin might find it worthwhile to look at films of Massine's symphonic ballets and Laban's motion choirs to see what precedents there are for solving counterpoint and simultaneity problems.

The guests hosted by Yatkin included four musicians: Nathan Bartley, violinist for Chaconne; Harold Anderson, composer and bass player for Dearriving, and his ensemble, clarinetist Darryl Harper and percussion player Nantambu Milton Russ. The two visual arts guests were lighting designer Catherine Eliot, and Lenita Williamson Reeves who was videographer and designer for Dearriving. A bright presence among the NY2 dancers was Lesole Maine; he's from South Africa

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 7
November 10, 2003

©2003 George Jackson




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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on October 7, 2003