DASSdance Returns to 1982′s NYC Loft Scene
Tonight at 8 p.m. in Washington Hall (153 14th Avenue), DASSdance presents Untitled, 1982 (tickets) by choreographer Daniel Wilkins–it’s a heartfelt paean to the whole bustling loft scene of the early ’80s in New York, and how it let people like Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Keith Haring rub elbows, among other things.
After the performance, there’s a private dance party benefit ($30), to bring things full circle. The genteelly decrepit Washington Hall is just the kind of rundown spot that is eternally being taken over by upstart artists–upstairs in the main hall, with graffiti hanging on the wall and a disco ball from the ceiling, decades shuffle past like ghosts. It always feels like you’ll run into an ersatz Warhol or two.
Wilkins advocates and teaches what he calls “all-terrain dance,” which is capacious enough to include ballet, modern, release technique, martial arts, breakdancing, tumbling, and wrestling. This presents its own challenges, as even if a choreographer can contain these multitudes, not many dancers would be professionally skilled at all of them. What you see instead, as with the DASSdance troupe, is a choreographer working with (and sometimes against) the predominant grain of his dancers.
Untitled, 1982 is, for Wilkins, an act of artistic channeling, not recollection, because he wasn’t in New York in those days (though he did graduate from the School of American Ballet). In 1982, he was in Seattle, busting movies at Skoochies.
Unfolding in 14 scenes, the work’s music samples liberally from the period (New Order, Love & Rockets) and Gray, the Holman/Basquiat collaboration. DASSdance is notable for its fashion-world associations, and while the program doesn’t mention a costume designer, it’s replete with hot pants, legwarmers, neon tube tops and bottoms, pedal-pushers, tutus, “Like A Virgin” lace-and-jean, even a tutu.
It takes a while for the segments to develop enough of a through-line that they don’t feel like bits from a dance recital (an impression sustained by an under-rehearsed air to the performance I attended), though Wilkins’ choreography is almost never boring, since you never know what’s coming next: a cartwheel, arabesque, or Running Man.
Tightened up, perhaps, Untitled, 1982 would better dramatize the conflict between the artist and his or her relationship with “the world”: the way partying and socializing steals time, the way personal relationships intrude on art and art’s demands on relationships, the privileges and hindrances of being an in- or outsider. DASSdance’s troupe carries off the “band of misfits” vibe handily, and they (like Spectrum Dance) all appear gymnastically inclined, with rolls over backs, jumps to their feet from their backs, cartwheels from every conceivable attitude.
Mia Monteabaro and Bojohn Diciple make a compellingly on-again, off-again couple–Monteabaro enticing, hanging on and retreating, Diciple thudding repeatedly to the floor but reaching up for the elusive object of desire. Graham Vanderwood’s performance was erratically charged, which may have been right for his character. As a dancer, his movements are all sharply defined edges, full of expression. Christina Cooley, I believe, played the ballerina initially on the outs with the downtown crowd, who surround her like the cast of Fame! gone wilding; I kept waiting for Wilkins to give Cooley something more to do than he did.
It’s already a riot of colors, often neon, but the dance culminates in a beautiful set piece, a stretch of plastic across the length of the hall, behind which dancers dip their hands into paint and then smear the “found” canvas. It’s not often that staged action painting comes off as well as this. It’s a restatement of the variety of lives you’ve just seen–all that depth and movement compressed.