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Rocha Dance Theater: “Half-Heard”

The dancers displayed all the heartbreak women face with a rare combination of muscular vigor and psychological insight.

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Courtney Drasner in a scene from Rocha Dance Theater’s “Half-Heard” (Photo credit: Mark Shelby Perry)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Half-Heard, the two-part world premiere choreographed for the Rocha Dance Theater by its director, Jenny Rocha was disappointing in only one respect:  only one performance of this superb work was presented by the CUNY Dance Initiative and John Jay College at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater.  Half-Heard deserves to be seen more than once.

In Part One, Rocha dressed most of her dancers as men in severe black suits with two dancers as women who clearly worked with these men.  They all danced around a long table in movements reminiscent of Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table, the men not only ignoring the women, but squeezing them out in a game of musical chairs that left the two women in a knock-down-drag-out fight for possession of the one remaining chair.

The “men” watched them battle it out as a quiet young lady in a simple red dress moved about like a guardian angel.  A figure in a long-fringed costume also appeared occasionally to shimmy her fringes in a ghostly way and disappear.  She reappeared in Part Two.

Rocha’s movement palette for the ersatz males was brilliantly realized:  athletic, large and varied, easily making the case for Rocha’s choice to use these women as men.  “Real” males would not have believably found the subtlety and sarcasm that these fine dancers were able to mine in Rocha’s movements.

Chelsea Escher, Dervla Carey-Jones, Nikki Ercie, Jenny Rocha, Courtney Drasner and Jamie Graham in a scene from Rocha Dance Theater’s “Half-Heard” (Photo credit: Mark Shelby Perry)

Even the fight between the two women was so carefully choreographed that it was clear that these were two sophisticated people fighting despite themselves, constantly having to make up new and larger moves to make the other budge from the valuable real estate of that simple office chair (which represented the tiny slice of the pie their male colleagues afforded them).

Part Two wasn’t as clear as Part One.  This part was more fantastical, making its mark by dreamlike, but effective imagery.  It began with two women dancing in outlandish pantaloons, bra tops and glittery headgear, swaying and undulating to Joseph Rivas’ inventive, flexible electronic score, a score which totally supported Rocha’s resourceful steps and dramatic intent.

One woman sported a clear plastic cube over her head; one a feathery pink costume that turned her into a giant flower; one was a forlorn figure in a short blue dress who roamed about on point; and the red-fringed character who returned only to be joined by two others who jiggled and wiggled and spun about making their fringes dance.  Finally, the young woman in the plain red dress made another appearance clearing the air of fantasy.

Rocha appeared to be dealing in stereotypes and tropes (exotic dancer, depressed female, etc.) helped by the ingenious, beautifully constructed costumes she herself designed, varying from the urbane to the plain to fairy tale imaginative.

Dervla Carey-Jones, Courtney Drasner and Chelsea Escher in a scene from Rocha Dance Theater’s “Half-Heard” (Photo credit: Mark Shelby Perry)

This wasn’t just a political statement about gender stereotypes, but a sensitive work of art that made its points through fine choreography, costuming, lighting (smartly designed by Jennifer Hill, creating a wide range of ambiances) and music. Half-Heard accomplished this without beating the audience members over the head.

What Rocha managed to do is personalize, sometimes in odd terms, the pinheaded macho behavior of the males in this society while pointing out the silly images women must endure.

Ms. Rocha and her dancers dug deeply and displayed all the heartbreak and frustration women face with a rare combination of muscular vigor and psychological insight.   The dancers, all wonderful were Dervla Carey-Jones, Courtney Drasner, Nikki Ervice, Chelsea Escher, Shoko Fujita, Jamie Graham, Nicole Lemelin and Ms. Rocha.

Rocha Dance Theater: Half-Heard (February 15, 2019)

Gerald W. Lynch Theater/John Jay College, 524 West 59th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.halfheard.brownpapertickets.com

Running time:  90 minutes including one intermission

 

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (343 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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