The Y Cabaret, which premiered on November 2nd and 3rd, 2015 is a brand new way to experience contemporary dance. The 14th Street Y and Bearded Lady Productions have come together to curate a unique evening of dance performances in a fun, relaxed cabaret environment. By moving contemporary dance performances off of the big stage and into an intimate, black box space, Y Cabaret is attempting to create more of a connection between the audience and the performers.
The effervescent Clinton Edward acted as the emcee of the cabaret, and provided a delightfully humorous presence between the dance pieces, while encouraging the audience to make repeated visits to the donation based bar. He did his best to engage the audience, but as this is a brand new kind of performance structure for a solely dance-based show, the audience seemed wary about when and how to engage.
The dances themselves covered a wide range of styles from solos to duets to larger group performances. The second piece, by Summation Dance Company, was a jazzy, playful duet and by far the most lighthearted showing of the evening. Papua! by Lauren Cox (Humans Collective) started as three interchanging solos, and moved into a group piece with all three female dancers sporting sticks as props in the dance, which were used with great success to introduce a new kind of movement to the piece. The result was a unique intermingling of contemporary dance with the theater world, with a subtle sex appeal.
The centerpiece of the night was Adam Baruch’s reinterpretation of Sweeney Todd with a large body of dancers. They moved with the main performers adding an interesting extra element to Sondheim’s music. The dancers’ slinky movements helped create the scenery and enhanced the dark, frenzied world of a man on the edge. The choice to have the dancers who played specific characters singing Sondheim’s complicated lyrics while they danced proved a challenge and caused some of the lyrics to be lost to the audience, but this took very little away from the beautiful choreography.
Yin Yue, Jon Ole Olstad, and Ashley Menestrina all choreographed and performed beautiful and moving solo pieces. Each had their own unique style; Olstad’s dance in particular skillfully used a voiceover to tell a harrowing tale. His movements seemed to play homage to modern b-boys with the controlled disjointedness of the choreography.
The highlight of the evening was the final piece, Saakasu choreographed by Omar Roman De Jesus and performed by eleven dancers. The piece started with a captivating solo and worked its way into a large group performance. The stark costumes, nude and skintight along with the powdered white faces added an otherworldly element to the dance. The choreography was truly original and powerful. The stage could barely contain the energy of such a large group of dancers, but being so close to them allowed you to feel the intensity of the dance. The ebb and flow of the dance from solo, to the full company, to a duet, and back to the group was seamless and brought you on their dark journey through to the lighter end, accompanied by Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune.’
While there were some difficult tonal shifts between the lighthearted nature of the emcee and the still largely serious and sedate contemporary dance performances, this was a brilliant first attempt at creating a new kind of space to see contemporary dance.
This Y Cabaret is the first of pilot program that the 14th Street Y hopes to make into a recurring bi-annual performance that will take submissions from all different kinds of performing artists. The goal is to offer artists more opportunities to showcase their work, in a forum that doesn’t require them to front their own costs. It is a beautifully designed program and one that is sure to only get better with each new iteration. Make sure not to miss the next Y Cabaret.
The 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 780 0800