Elaboration and Precision
Hilary Easton applies scientific method
By Brian McCormick
...Efficiency is antithetical to art. It is aesthetics—not cost-effectiveness—that is of prime consideration in the creative process, as contrasted from the commercial one. Modern dance in particular seems unacquainted with the concept of expediency. So it is curious subject matter that choreographer Hilary Easton chose for her latest work entitled “The Short-Cut,” inspired by the time-motion studies and scientific management theories of Frederick Taylor, an industrial expert from the early 20th century.
The work was presented May 19 through 22 at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church.
Along with her excellent collaborators, Easton has crafted a thoughtful and delightful eulogy to the dancer as worker. The hour-long piece is structured as a series of vignettes set to different pieces of suitable accompaniment by Thomas Cabaniss—percussion, strings, piano—and framed by a concise and perfectly officious text, written by Helen Schulman and performed with wonderful managerial uptightness by Steven Ratazzi.
Embodying Taylor, the physically concise Ratazzi, dressed in brown slacks, vest, tie and shoes, evaluates and measures dance sequences using his arms and an imaginary stopwatch, motivating the dancers toward greater efficacy in the choreography, which mostly means getting from A to B faster and with fewer embellishments.
Costuming by Eric Bradley, mostly denims and grays, adds uniformity to the worker collective motif, and Kathy Kaufmann’s attentive lighting takes its direction from the spatial architecture of the dance. The sweet young performers—Leslie Cuyjet, Aaron Draper, Brian Gerke, Blossom Lelani and Emily Stone—are strong and solid and they enliven the choreography with their endurance and endearing charisma.
While the movement invention palette is somewhat limited, Easton’s sense of stage movement and direction is especially keen; neither the eye nor the awe wanders. Tableaux spring and spin into action, a mellifluous unmingling of limbs as the group separates. Long reaches, circling arms, deep lunges, centrifugal lifts, leaps and weighted movement fill this repetitious aerobic lecture demonstration, in solos and duets, trios and quartets. Humor is infused into the exercises as dancers race through activities, coached on with positive and negative reinforcement by their fellow performers.
When Rattazzi begins to dance, there is an awkwardness that threatens to undermine the message, but it only serves to make it clearer. Choreography is not a science, and the only place you can achieve greater effectiveness is not in the dance, but in how it’s managed.