Streamed by Harkness Dance Center, 92nd St Y, New York City
November 18, 2021
Watching the streamed premiere of Yin Yue’s Ripple, her company’s first live performance since lockdown and filmed in front of a live audience at the New York’s Harkness Dance as part of the 92nd St Y’s Mainstage Series, it’s hard to believe that the work was only finalised the day before the show. It is gorgeous. Over 36 minutes, a series of duets and solos bookended by ensemble sections for the company’s five dancers draw you in as they flow together effortlessly in a totally captivating performance.
The title could barely be more apt. On a dimly lit stage (although not impossibly so) and under a single spotlight, straight lines combine with fluid ripples and pulses through bodies that shift like water moving gently back and forth.
Throughout, Ripple brims with the choreographer’s trademark blend of ballet, contemporary dance, and Chinese classical and folk movement, known as FoCo technique. Long and short, angular and smooth, flowing and pointed, shapes are painted with bodies in the same way a calligrapher might use a brush.
The dance also exudes a great sense of togetherness. The synchronicity in the unison sections is superb, but even better is the way eyes frequently meet as the cast appear to empathise with, share and understand each other’s feelings. Much of the movement was made during lockdown over Zoom and later at a 10-day get together in Colorado. Some, though was only made in the week before the show. Perhaps that unique creative process, those circumstances, and why the choreography also very much feels true to the performers.
Each of the sections brings something different while retaining the work’s overriding theme. The music ranges from pulsing electronica, as in the opening which sounds like radio waves put through a mixer, to atmospherically cinematic. There are snippets of text too. A solo for Jordan Lang evokes the accompanying words of ‘Sleep’ by Mr Mitch that detail the frightening dreams of a child. When joined by Yue, dashes of hip hop are added to the choreography’s eclectic mix.
There’s always a smooth connection between sections as dancers melt into the surrounding blackness, others emerging to take their place. A solo for Yue sees her arms alternately reach out and cradle herself. It’s impossible not to remember that sense of isolation and the need for human contact we all felt while shut away at home, often alone.
And it is weight sharing, that so missed touch and intimacy that is to the fore in a duet between Grace Whitworth and Nat Wilson to A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s version of the third movement of Michael Nyman’s String Quartet No.2. Played significantly more slowly than the original, the music is brilliantly supple and smooth and accentuates the emotion in the scene. The delicious dance is super-fluid. The trusting duet emphasises weight sharing and touch as the couple fold around one another with the many and sometimes tricky lifts and supports made to look easy.
A further duet for Yue and Kristalyn Gill is faster moving. There’s plenty of space for you to read into each duet or solo what you will, or just admire the bodies in motion. Here, and perhaps it is the accompaniment, but there are moments when the dance seems to have an almost other-worldly feel.
Ripple ends perfectly, the dancers fading away before only Yue herself is left to be slowly swallowed by the closing darkness as she continues to move.
Yin Yue is clearly one to watch. Her potential has just been recognised by her being names as a recipient (along with Alethea Pace) of the 2021 Harkness Promise Award presented by Dance Magazine, which will be presented at a livestreamed event at New York’s Guggenheim Museum on December 6, 2021 that will also include a live performance. The award, for innovative choreographers in their first decade of professional work, offers a $5,000 grant and 40 hours of rehearsal space. The awardees will also feature in a shared evening as part of the 2022 Works & Process season in the Peter B. Lewis Theater at the Guggenheim.