Perhaps the most appealing aspect of what Martha Connerton calls a "public sharing" is its informality. Climaxing a "Master Blaster Weekend" with a residency by New York-based choreographer Bill Young, who taught a class and led a workshop, the sharing clumped together five different pieces by five different choreographers in various stages of completion, with and without music, costumes, or titles. My wife Sue and I arrived punctually at the Open Door Studios for the performance and found the hallway crammed with dancers in leotards. Only the emergence of Connerton from inside the studio reassured me that I hadn't blundered into a dance school instead of a Connerton/Kinetic Works program. Another surprise awaited us as we entered the studio, where Connerton explained that Young and participants in his workshop – including Connerton herself – were wrapping up their final rehearsal.
Strangely, there was more space blocked off for the dancers than the spectators, but with the addition of a few folding chairs and benches, the small crowd was accommodated. Young and Connerton served as our co-hosts, Young contenting himself with speaking briefly to us from behind us and Connerton emceeing between stints of dancing. A certain looseness and flexibility about the performance became evident as the program unfolded and we learned the conventions. Dancers who retreated to the sides of the room and stood still in Arlynn Zachary's "The Mark" were perceived to have exited to the wings even though they remained visible. Connerton must have allowed herself the option of free improvisation in her own "Basically," for during the solo piece, she splayed herself against the rear wall and draped herself over the barres for comic effect, utilizing resources that would not likely be available to her in any theater. When the costumes were preset onstage for the three dancers of The Wake Project to change into during Camerin McKinnon's untitled piece, one of the dancers parked her costume on one of the front benches – next to her two children, as it turned out.
All the dances were executed at a satisfying level of proficiency. Variance in the program was in the realm of choreography, which occasionally lacked the thrust of a sharp intent or the excitement of swift and challenging movement. Zachary's "The Mark" contrasted the erect posture of the lead dancer with the frequent floor-work of the other two and achieved a modicum of variety through subsequent exits, re-entries, and re-combinations of the dancers. What was missing included the urgency, regularity, and context that might be layered on with music. The plain black costuming of the three dancers only deepened the dreary nebulosity. Costuming and music in McKinnon's piece added interest to the action but not much excitement, since it hadn't seemed to be important to the choreographer that the dancers work up a sweat.
The hemp rope tied loosely around the dancers in Audrey Baran's "Out of Mind" held intriguing promise as she and her ensemble took the floor, and the music was the liveliest so far. None of the action in the dance struck me as linked to the distinctive costume accessorizing, and there was never any sense that the choreography was custom-designed for a specific number of dancers. On the contrary, as the piece reached its conclusion, I became more and more convinced that "Out of Mind" was the sort of choreography a teacher would make for her class – with not the loftiest level of students, and not beyond the capabilities of any of them. As useful as such an enterprise may be, it yielded lowest-common-denominator results here and the least lively work I've seen from Baran, one of my favorite local dancers.
Sheer novelty was what impressed me most with the pieces created by Connerton and Young. There may actually be a unique costume for "Basically" when Connerton chooses to bring her solo to a more formal venue – here it was merely the same rehearsal outfit she wore for Young's piece – but she's likely to be carrying the same straw boater hat with her. Once again, there was no music to accompany Connerton's choreography, which included plenty of business with the hat, but there was some amusing text to texturize the action. Each segment began with the phrase "Basically, there are two kinds of people…" Of course, the more times you say that with a different pairing for each new statement, the more you actually undercut the usefulness and credibility of any of these pronouncements. The comical result was a refreshing slice of performance art.
Young's "Workshop Sharing" had the ephemeral flavor of a happening, with all of the dancers – a dozen or more – contributing their own moves to an intricate template designed by the choreographer. Individual and partnered sections were mixed into the overall design with ensembles choreographed by Young. Here there was music again for Young and his dancers to set their movements to, yet there was one distinctive episode done without music that returned us to performance art mode as the choreographer suddenly became a participant. Wielding the camera utility on his smartphone, Young took group shots of the ensemble huddled together upstage. Confounding expectations once again, Young wasn't satisfied until his third take – when all the dancers' eyes were closed.
After the program, nearly everyone in the audience remained for a talkback, led by Connerton and Young. Since there hadn't been a printed program, the talkback was a nifty way to learn the names of all the talented dancers – and to explore the intentions of the choreographers. We also heard the plans Zachary and McKinnon had for further developing their works. Most of the choreographers brought notebooks to the talkback session and a fair number of dancers joined in offering feedback along with the audience. All in all an invigorating program and an innovative way to enjoy dance.