Emery LeCrone: In Motion
With dance, sometimes it’s the music itself that gets me, sometimes it’s the movements (the opening of Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements or the closing of Tharp’s In the Upper Room), sometimes it’s the geometry as patterns form and reform, and sometimes it’s a depiction of drama (Robbins’s The Cage, for instance). This may too schematic, but it has its uses. With the dances of the young New York–based choreographer Emery LeCrone, what I like most is often the drama: a sense of dancers as people suggesting social positions and relations.
Sometimes I don’t see it right away. She made a duet this year called II. (the period is part of the title), in which the man and woman move in unison for what seems like a long time before their partnering finally begins. In mid-April, when I saw it on a Columbia Ballet Collaborative program, I didn’t know how to take it. When I saw it again, in LeCrone’s showcase at a City Center studio at the end of May, it made more sense because a dramatic analogy occurred to me: this is a couple whom we see mostly in public, where they face the world perfectly in sync, but sometimes they get a private moment–and then their roles diverge, each enabling the other to do what he or she does best.
In Unchained Melodies, which I saw first in a Barnard program this spring and then in LeCrone’s showcase, there’s a stronger sense of social roles being assumed or abandoned. Set to seven popular songs of the 60s―Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” etc.―it uses seven women in long, solid-color dresses (and complementary heels for part of the work), but it doesn’t depict the affairs of the heart that the music suggests. It’s more about the constraints imposed on middle-class American women of the Far from Heaven or early Mad Men period. They sit in chairs and perform semi-mechanical gestures, as if practicing lessons in deportment, or they get up and do some ballroom-style dancing with each other, maybe rehearsing a part they’ll play with men. Sometimes they get to cut loose in a solo; more than once they go sprawling to the floor as if life has, for a moment, nearly wrecked them. Their melodies, to put it simply, are seldom unchained.
LeCrone’s most complex and compelling work (among those I’ve seen) was a dance she made for a Works & Process presentation at the Guggenheim last October. The program’s idea was simple: give the same difficult music―five knotty, unrelated pieces by Elliott Carter―to two choreographers, LeCrone and Avichai Scher, and see how they respond. Using five dancers and employing some modernized ballet vocabulary, LeCrone’s piece, With Thoughtful Lightness, responded to the music’s moods without trying to track it closely. Highlights: romantic moments in the first trio, including some swooning lifts of NYCB dancer Megan LeCrone (Emery’s sister); a duet in unison in which Megan LeCrone and Gabrielle Lamb didn’t echo each other so much as harmonize; and a solo for Lamb that was rather a knockout.
One of LeCrone’s strengths is solos like that. She seems quickly to grasp a particular dancer’s best qualities and to choreograph for them. What she did for Lamb last fall, she did for Drew Jacoby in a solo crafted for the APAP Showcases in January. Among other qualities, Jacoby has killer legs, and we sensed their tensile strength in this solo. Using your dancers well, making them look good (and not just your dance), is one of the many things that’s expected of choreographers, but LeCrone does it better than some young dancemakers do.
The May showcase was one result of a City Center fellowship that includes studio space and other resources over the course of a year. Another result was a dance premiered that night called Við Vorum, for an ensemble of men―seven men, as it happens, making this a parallel to the seven-woman Unchained Melodies. In contrast to the restraint and overall gentility of that work, this one unleashed its dancers in a display of male strength and athleticism. It also seemed to unleash LeCrone, reminding me a little of the men’s parts in Paul Taylor’s Cloven Kingdom (minus the satire), and maybe even of the propulsive energy often seen in Jiři Kylián’s works.
I’m unsure whether she has much taste for the musical past. She’s used a surprising number of contemporary composers: the eternal modernist Carter; many of the minimalists and post-minimalists, such as Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams, Arvo Pärt, David Lang, Julia Wolf, Michael Gordon, Michael Nyman; the wide-ranging Joby Talbot, kind of a neo-Romantic in what I’ve heard; and some electronic types such as Zoë Keating, Max Richter, and Chris Clark. The Dead White Guys of classical tradition haven’t gotten much attention: a little Bach, plus Mendelssohn and Glière. Will that change? We’ll see.
LeCrone seems to be driven: 38 works in eight years, including 12 in the last nine months. So when I asked her, after her May showcase, what was next on her schedule, I expected some reference to a break. Instead, she answered, “Juilliard,” which has commissioned her to make a work for a program in late fall.