NY2Dance // Dance Place, Washington DC // November 13–14, 2010 // Reviewed by Emily Macel Theys
Yatkin’s Wallstories. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu. Courtesy Dance Place.
When Nejla Yatkin lifts a finger, the whole room watches in hushed anticipation. For People With Wings opens with Yatkin lying on her back in a pile of black tulle and feathers. Her head is downstage, and her arms are expanded like wings. With very little movement she creates a scene that looks like it could be a projection of a black and white film, showing frame-by-frame the control and range of her wingspan. When she rises from the floor, the feathers are sent off in all directions. Her legs and torso have just as much if not more control than her muscular arms, and the piece becomes a duet with the layers upon layers of tulle. A woman in a tutu is so much more for Yatkin: It’s a love affair, a struggle against nature, a choice between being covered up and revealing it all. Eventually she strips herself of the tutu, and rises out of the now lifeless fabric. Strong and powerful yet feminine and ethereal, she is surely the kind of muse the sculptor had in mind when creating the Winged Victory.
Wings was made in 2000, the first year of NY2Dance. For this 10th-anniversary season, Yatkin showed a range of her work from the last decade. In Journey to the One, a Tango (2004), her company dances in progressively smaller groups—five women move giddily and cattily about a bouquet of roses, four men strut to show off, a trio represents a love triangle that blends into a duet between lovers. Finally Yatkin returns to the stage to again show us that fabric—this time bright red satin—can be a powerful and gripping partner. Her company members appeared younger and less experienced than Yatkin, but a few showed sparks of Nejla’s passion, particularly Emily Schoen and Ahmaud Culver in their heated duet.
The final work for the evening was Wallstories (2009), an hour-long ode to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Using songs from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album, eight dancers take the audience through the history surrounding the Berlin Wall’s creation and downfall. Images of Germany and oral histories of those who experienced hardship because of the Wall created a visual backdrop and soundscape.
What’s most apparent from this journey is how Yatkin’s choreography has matured. She is able to blend cold militaristic movements with youthful dancing. The dancers represent the teenagers of Germany in the 1980s and 90s who grew up in the time of division and conflict, which is what Yatkin herself experienced growing up in Berlin. There were a number of stand-out moments: Yatkin’s take on running, literally, up the wall of the stage (while this motif has appeared in several works before Wallstories, the dancers here accomplished it with palpable ferocity, symbolic of resistance to The Wall); the tender duets where women cover their male counterparts with handkerchiefs; and a solo where a dancer moves about a central square of light, while the others slowly walk backwards from the edges of the stage, eventually enclosing him inside of their wall of bodies. Again Schoen was memorable for her precision, control, and intensity. In the end, she and Yatkin dance a duet across a wide distance, Schoen onstage while Yatkin rises up out of a seat in the house. They are breaking down yet another wall—the one between the dancers and the audience.