Monica Bill Barnes & Company at NYU Skirball
Dance Review by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
Monica Bill Barnes seems like someone who would be fun to have a beer with, or ten; or to dare to jump from, a not so high bridge into cold water below, just for the helluva it. Or maybe someone to hit the surf with on a huge Makaha day; maybe to slide down a steep dirt hill on a trash can lid, who knows. Likewise, she would no doubt be in the first seat of the steepest roller coaster in town, with of course, her arms raised, screaming. Yes, you can see it in her dance.. brave stuff, bold, funny, and outlandish. She goes for it, is not timid. She would easily win Spirit Queen at Pleasantville High, and would probably be head-cheerleader in a real life Bring It On.
Her dancers are all very good, strong, pliant, good athletes; their solid training showed through even in the zany choreography. I liked one dancer in particular, Giulia Carotenuto, who appeared in Everything Is Getting Better All The Time. Tall, long-limbed, and angular with an expressive body, Ms. Carotenuto has that ineffable something that makes her compelling to watch. Call it good energy, presence, or an inner joy, she owns it. She doesn’t borrow space, she sculptures it with an unconscious, intuitive knowledge and artistic essence.
But this wasn’t a program to display the dancer’s technical abilities or artistic chops. Ms. Barnes rather chooses music from the best classic soul genre (among others)–the genius of Tina, Otis, and James Brown– and serves up a vaudeville-like variety show, full of sight gags and large production gloss. Everything is tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted, and full of creative imagination. But if you are looking for movements that grip emotion, thought, and idea this isn’t the style for you. It’s all comedy. And if you’re a fan of this music, and have emotional attachments to Ike and Tina for instance (Proud Mary), you’ll be disappointed in the nerdy choreographic hyperbole– for instance, like Abba’s music that went to Broadway in the awful jukebox musical of Mamma Mia, all disjointed and out of context. Likewise, when you have a go with James Brown’s soulful Sexy Thing you better be good–its a tough order, even in fun, for you’re messing with the best. After all, many a child were conceived by parents listening to The Twelfth of Never. Powerful voodoo. Ms Barnes, however, is not afraid to demystify these aural landmarks, and flip them for humor.
The movement in most of the dances, like Luster and I Feel Like are not so much dance as natural running, hopping, stutter-stepping done with lots of speed changes. Lots of flailing arms, lots of mugging, herky-jerky, all comedically presented. There are no shapes or poses to dwell on, no sentiment, no narrative; it rather instead goes for the pure joy of movement and the infinite possibilities of expressing pure emotion, dorky as it sometimes can be. It goes for anti-beauty and farce and investigates those issues. The result is a really fun, positive, creative evening with a rare beauty all its own, gray NB running shoes aside, that the large, full house appreciated.