By Sarah Downs

The dance company Danse Lumière hosted a Mother’s Day ‘salon concert’ on May 14th at the Martha Graham Dance Center.  “Women’s Voices” paid tribute to the work of women in the arts, including excerpts from ballets created by women, and a panel discussion regarding women and leadership in the arts.

Artistic Director and choreographer Kathryn Roszak, visual artist Anna Sidana and choreographer Gianna Reisen come from different backgrounds, each finding her way through her respective field.  Roszak trained in ballet and theater, and has been choreographing for many years.  Sidana worked in the financial sector, but left to follow her heart into the visual arts.  It was risky, but the bigger the risk the bigger the reward, as evidenced in her beautiful paintings.  Reisen is an up-and-coming choreographer.  At age 18, she is the youngest person to stage a ballet for NY City Ballet.

There is no roadmap for leadership in the arts, especially for women.  It takes greater effort to be listened to, let alone taken seriously.  In the ballet worls, companies have a very old school, hierarchical structure, with dancers, both male and female, at the bottom.  Battling through the power dynamics is difficult enough for young male choreographers, but historical bias against women is strong enough that their ambition is often dismissed.  You have to be a little entrepreneurial, as these women have been.  Make your own roadmap.

Following a far reaching discussion, we were treated to four dance excerpts.  The first piece was a solo choreographed and danced by Aio Sato.  In an overlong skirt which was initially striking but soon became a dangerous obstacle, Sato swirled around, maintaining speed and lightness.  The piece didn’t really build to any particular image or metaphor but it had a pleasing simplicity and femininity.

The dance that followed, “Signs” by Gianna Reisen, is a true pas de deux, with strong classical elements.  It is so satisfying to see clear lines and good position, as well as lovely partnering.  NYC Ballet dancers Grace Scheffel and Charlie Klesa easily conveyed the dynamic of resistance and release which fired the piece.  Uncluttered by overwrought emotion, “Signs” stayed on the human level, reinforcing the connection between the dancers without becoming solipsistic.

Next, Kathryn Roszak debuted her newest solo work “Contretemps”, danced by Tiits Helimets, a former principal of the San Francisco Ballet.  “Contretemps,” an homage to Leonardo da Vinci, the portrait of Dr. Pozzi by John Singer Sargent and a contemporary man, suffered from its abundance of inspiration.  Leonardo the visionary, Dr. Pozzi the medical pioneer and the ever-evolving idea of modern man collided to make a confusing work that does not feel at all contemporary.  It was more a cluttered rehashing of old school modern dance.

Helimets is wonderful to watch.  You can feel the strength of his technique in every perfect pirouette and legato gesture, alternately anguished and relaxed.  He extends every move beyond its line, which elevates the work.  “Contretemps” is set to several pieces of music, including a beautiful Notturno by Arnold Schoenberg.  Its beautiful, melodic simplicity and soothing strings pulled us back from the edge of the somewhat incoherent drama.

The last piece, “The Unanswered Question,” also by Roszak, had a similarly muddy effect, although the dance possessed stronger narrative.  There was a lot of reaching and running around.  Ned Rorem’s music moved between pliantly tuneful to loud tumult as the four dancers, Rayan Lecurieux-Durival, Jared Stern, Gwen Ontiveros and Aoi Sato, portrayed parallel and contrasting emotional stories.  Chaos would turn to jazz, which transformed the choreography from angst to sensuality, emphasizing the differences between the two couples.   Jazz with a touch of dystopia, as the music ended on a sadder, indeed a questioning note.

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“Women’s Voices” – May 14, 2023 at 3:00 PM, at the Martha Graham Dance Center, 55 Bethune Street (West Village); Running time 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Info:  510-439-7518.