Note from the writer: Within this article I elected to use gender neutral pronouns as I did not have to opportunity to ask all dancemakers which pronouns they prefer. Any grammatical errors related to pronouns are intentional.
Last Thursday I had the exceptional privilege to experience the Dance Block SHARE, a collaborative presentation by Fourth Arts Block and University Settlement (US). The theme “Move in Place” aimed to celebrate the cultural/artistic vitality and diversity found within the Lower East Side ― one of the most important artistic neighborhoods in the world.
Working in the Lower East Side, if only for a short time, always has a profound impact upon those of us who produce art. Sometimes we call ourselves sculptors, sometimes writers, and sometimes performers. Dancemakers contribute some of the strongest narratives and unique voices to the LES’s artistic community. They proclaim their stories and experiences with phrases of the body; statements of purposeful movement which often evoke our most instinctual impulses of visceral emotion.
After eating a warm cookie and a few fresh strawberries in the lobby space on the second floor of University Settlement’s Eldridge Street location, I found my seat in the front row. Little did I know, I sat next to one of the most dynamic performers of the night who I would later see dancing to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” Before the program began, however, FAB’s very own Anna Adler and US’s Alison Fleminger facilitated an audience question and response activity in which we learned more about the strangers and acquaintances surrounding us. In attendance were representatives from every borough of the city (including Staten Island!), people who spoke an abundance of languages, and passionate teachers and students in the arts; I found myself with a better understanding of the night’s crowd and it was wonderful fodder for conversation after the performances.
Talli Jackson began the night with a monologue preluding their performance, in which they outlined that the performance was not about any party (themself or the audience) receiving or giving anything nor anyone being stimulated intellectually or emotionally. Entitled “Well”, Jackson’s performance highlighted the smallness within the vastness. This rings a bell of recognition for many of us living in the city and working in the LES as we connect to each other through the small communities within the vastness of the urban landscape surrounding us.
Right after, New Youth Movement Collaborative performed a piece called “BE,” in which founder Marguerite Hemmings (the person sitting next to me from earlier) moved to the sound of Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” passionately underscoring the intense racial relations facing our nation, city, and neighborhood. Needless to say, it was driven by intensity and evoked intensity in return. Performing in succession, Devin Duran, a member of NYMC paired Lana Del Rey’s smooth and soft, “Young and Beautiful” with dynamic hits, isolations, and floats. The contrast between the genre of smooth, melodic music and the genre of harsh, precise movement was impressive and compelling.
The Vanessa Long Dance Company then quite literally overtook the stage, as they spread what seemed to be hundreds of plastic grocery bags around the studio space for their performance, “Urban Tumbleweed”. Often focussing on social and political issues, the troupe moved in beautiful syncopation, not allowing the bags to inhibit them, but repurposing them as pieces of art in themselves. The bags moved almost like extensions of the dancers’ bodies, leaving the audience entranced and intrigued by the sight, sounds and textures.
After a short pause, the second “act” began with Sydnie L. Mosley Dances (SLMDances), with Sydnie Mosley themself conducting an interactive dialogue with the audiences while dancers performed. Sydnie effortlessly weaved humor, empathy and warmth to make us aware of the fact that there is indeed sustainable and valuable abundance that surrounded us in the room – and that surrounds us every day in the LES. The piece was an excerpt from the show “BodyBusiness”, which will premiere November 12-14 at University Settlement.
Same As Sister (S.A.S.), an NYC based performance collective including sisters Briana Brown-Tipley and Hilary Brown, performed next. Choreographed around two chairs, the duo began their piece, Women Times Three and I was startled when, without warning, one sister suddenly seized the chair the other was sitting in and toppled them, sending them over the back of their chair and onto the floor with a hard slam. The performance grappled with the way we conceptualize and intertwine the performative acts of gender and violence.
The final presentation of the night, “Colliding Scopes/Circles of Inquiry”, was performed by Candace Thompson and Nehemoyia Young. Each were clad in extremely disparate outfits: Candace wore what we might see in passing on the street today (complete with an animal print leotard, short jean shorts, black boots and gold jewelry), while Nehemoyia’s garb was more nondescript (consisting of a simple black top, loose white trousers, and no shoes). To me, this seemed to present a commentary concerning the progression of the style, fashion and movement of black females. During their performance, the scopes of culture did indeed collide, but they also intersected beautifully. With this final expression, the show ended.
After the show, I stayed to mingle, talk and help clean up. The dancemakers and performers I met were kind and simply excited to have a platform to share what they’ve been working on so tirelessly. They are dedicated beyond belief and hold tightly to their hearts a sense of love and compassion for the neighborhood. Each performance was indicative of the maker’s strong connection to the culture and people that inhabit the space we fondly call the Lower East Side.
A special thanks to FABnyc and University Settlement for putting together this enlightening experience.
David Henninger is an intern at FABnyc, student at Columbia University, advocate for transgender rights, and lover of art. To learn more, find him on social media or email him at email@example.com.
All photos are by Whitney Browne Photography; please do not use without permission.