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The Vaults at 14 Wall St.
Wall Street Supermen Salvage Dance Maker’s Nietzschean Tribute
Feature article on Sensate by Philip Boroff
Bloomberg.com | Nov 2009
Nov. 21 (Bloomberg) -- When New York dancer-choreographer Carrie Ahern had a falling out with the academics who’d offered to support her work, the market came to the rescue: Capstone Equities provided free rehearsal space in an underground bank vault near the New York Stock Exchange.
“Sensate,” a three-hour “dance installation” ending this weekend at the Brooklyn Lyceum, was inspired by Ahern’s reading of Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century philosopher who created the idea of the “superman.”
Neitzsche scholars in New York at first offered to collaborate with Ahern on the production and to help raise money. In November 2008, they asked her dancers to work gratis.
“They asked the dancers to donate their time in the spirit of Nietzschean sacrifice,” Ahern said in an interview. “Their fees are a matter of respect. I was insulted that they would use Nietzsche’s work as a justification for not coming up with the money.”
Enter Capstone. Ahern, whose work the New Yorker magazine has called “striking and original,” applied for free rehearsal space from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, which places artists in unused commercial space. For two years, closely held Capstone has lent LMCC the vault in the basement of 14 Wall Street, a space totaling 22,000 square feet.
The choreographer, four performers and a composer rehearsed about 260 hours there, saving her about $5,000.
“It was important aid,” Ahern said, adding that the vault had proven to be an artistic as well as financial plus. “You can do so many things in it,” she said. “It’s much more malleable than other space.”
Cheaper to produce than a Broadway show, dance’s lower profile and smaller audience make fundraising especially difficult.
“Even for established artists there aren’t a lot of funding sources,” said Andrea Sholler, executive director of Dance Theater Workshop, a downtown Manhattan venue.
Moreover, the throbbing, gyrating and convulsions on view at a recent “Sensate” rehearsal won’t remind anyone of “Swan Lake.”
“If there is not movement people understand, they feel uncomfortable,” Sholler said. “It’s more challenging to the viewer than other art forms.”
Ahern started dancing at 11 in Milwaukee. After high school, she moved to New York, skipping college to avoid debt. She danced freelance while working as a waitress and caterer. Today, she teaches yoga and Pilates.
In 2007, she was encouraged to create “Sensate” by the Nietzsche Circle, a New York non-profit that brings together artists and writers to engage with Nietzsche’s work.
After committing to help, circle members said they had no time for fundraising, Ahern said.
Rainer J. Hanshe, executive director of the Nietzsche Circle, wrote in an e-mail that he and his colleagues found Ahern’s $15,000 budget “exorbitant.”
Hanshe, a Ph.D. candidate in English at CUNY Graduate Center, said he helps run the circle without pay. He cited in his e-mail “the very large fees for the choreographer, the dancers and a composer.”
Ahern “refused to even talk about such fees and was completely inflexible in that regard,” wrote Hanshe, who co- edits the circle’s online journal “Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics.”
Ahern said she took no fee for herself and that the budget included pay for a lighting and costume designer and $2,000 per dancer.
“It’s like, nothing,” she said of the dancer fees she fought for. She ultimately raised $17,000 herself through a fundraiser hosted by members of her troupe’s board.
At the Lyceum, audience members can traverse the two-level converted bathhouse and come and go as they please. Ahern said she sought a format in which performers and audience have unusual freedom.
As for roughhousing among dancers in the piece, Ahern said everyone has the capacity to be violent.
“If you don’t recognize it, you’re more likely to act on it,” she said. “If we sublimate it, we are not living to our full potential.”back ^
Ahern's spook house
By Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Infinite Body review | Nov 2009
Halloween might be long gone, but Carrie Ahern and her fellow dancers are haunting the Brooklyn Lyceum this week. They're decidely flesh-and-blood creatures. But, if you go, you'll feel the hairs on your arms tingling, particularly if you spend any time in the small, upstairs room where powerful Donna Costello might thrash around like a maniac only a millimeter away from you.
Sensate, running for three hours at every installation performance, offers each audience member his or her choice of arrival and departure time, viewing location and even intermission. (A restroom is conveniently located to the rear of the main space's primary seating area. Quietly slip back to your bench without fuss, and know that it's okay that you've missed what you've chosen to miss.) Ahern invites us to collaborate with her by creating our own experience of the work, going beyond her own efforts to shape its structure by willfully reorganizing her output.
From what I could tell, last night's small audience saw itself in a far more linear way. For instance, for long stretches of time, people sat in a conventional arrangement, facing the main space head-on. And Ahern's use of the Lyceum's features--including stairs to different levels--rarely went beyond expected functionality. It's certainly not the first time, we've seen dancers suddenly arrive or withdraw by taking the stairs.
A live, visually-innovative performance voice and electronic music by composer Anne Hege and eerie lighting by Jay Ryan contribute to the spooky, mysterious air. Costumer Naoko Nagata's raggedy layers make the dancers resemble survivors of some unnamed disaster. And the site itself, a former public bathhouse, is a potentially eccentric space for a show. But it needs more imaginative magic-making.
Ahern's choreography, however, and the Bacchante-like performances of her fellow dancers--Costello, David Figueroa, Kelly Hayes and Jillian Hollis--can often sizzle. The audience might evade Ahern's invitation to freedom, but her dancers do not. They take to this work with feverish abandon and put their bodies--maybe even their sanity--on the line.back ^
Review of SeNSATE
By Meghan Frederick
I DANZ.com | Nov 2009
Theories about creation tend to take one of two routes, either there was always something, or, before there was, there was not. Sensate, Carrie Ahern’s new work at the Brooklyn Lyceum, speaks strongly for the first of these ideas.
Walking into Ahern’s version of the Brooklyn Lyceum is stepping into a world that has always been. Ahern structures Sensate like an installation; audience members arrive and leave at any point during a three hour period. One walks into the performance space with no program, only the instructions to move around the space at any point, to sit anywhere, and to get as close to the dancers as one would like.
There being no discernible beginning or end to this dance, one is struck by various impressions which overlap and overwhelm one another. First, two women in rags, one in very short shorts and the other in a long skirt. They run at one another, pushing each other to the ground, the skirted one gains the upper hand and folds her partner into a ball, then kneads her like dough as she climbs to kneel on top. On a catwalk in the back of the space, a woman in a long dress, her face to the corner, a man, opposite her with hands curled like fiddleheads, walking very slowly, a woman’s bloody knees as she hangs, upside down, against the wall…
Then, one notices the audience members. Stage lights glint off glasses, footsteps add to the atmospheric score as people shift. There aren’t very many people there, but this creates an interesting dynamic in itself. You hear something, you turn, and you don’t know whether to expect an audience member or another dancer, appearing out of the woodwork.
Each viewer has a different experience of this work but, from my perspective, the strongest section of this dance is Donna Costello’s arresting solo, performed in a smaller space adjacent to, and above the main room, separated from it by a plane of glass. Sitting on the catwalk, I can watch Costello shake and fall, punctuating her destructive movement with moments of "dance" moves. She hops backward repeatedly, waving her arms in front of her face then steps forward and completes three attitude leg raises, front, side, back, bending her torso towards her raised knee. From my viewpoint, Costello is seen through the plane of glass and the criss-crossed strips of marley, lain onto the bare plywood floor in the main room, are reflected over her body. As the dance continues in the room where I am sitting, the dancers seem to move over her, worlds colliding, but taking no notice.
Finally, I shift to watch the dance from this smaller room and am involved more than expected. I am actually hit by the dancer performing here as she rushes by. Her dance is violent, with swinging, jabbing arms, and even before she slams into my legs, I am afraid she is going to punch me. Yikes! Luckily she doesn’t.
In this room, I am also illuminated as to the construction of the sparse, apocalyptic score we have been hearing all night. Anne Hege is singing, live, into a contraption that seems to be made of balsa wood, tape players and a Mac computer. As she sings she manipulates the tape players and several feet of the actual tape, with the help of an assistant, to distort and loop her voice. It is quite impressive. At some point during this last solo, I realize the dance is about to repeat and this knowledge urges me to step out and end my experience. I realize, on the walk home that I am slightly disappointed now that I know it just starts all over. I realize, rather than watching the creation of the universe, we are watching what is left after the world has ended. Sensate is disturbing.back ^
A Place to Stay Awhile
by Quinn Batson
offoffoff.com review | Nov 2009
Review of SeNSATE
Fingered Media.com | Nov 2009
By Margot Mifflin
Margotmifflin.com | Sept 2009
If you gave Yayoi Kusama a crochet hook, she might mount the kind of fuzzy spectacle you’ll find on the corner of 47th St. and Lexington Avenue this week. “Covers,” a collaboration between choreographer Carrie Ahern and fabric artist Olek, is a silent performance/installation piece in which two women wrapped (or trapped?) in bolts of kooky knitwear move in slow motion in a storefront gallery itself webbed in wool. It’s as if a spider on acid had spun out of control, trading silk for yarn and catching moving mannequins in its web.
Between the buzz of fashion week in Bryant Park and the bustle of people rushing along Lexington Avenue at rush hour (the only time the women appear) the performance is a midtown island of calm, craft and counter-consumerism. Nothing here’s for sale. Step closer and you’ll notice random crochet-covered objects—an iron, a sled and a t.v. —along with crazy little phallic sheaths (and balloons) dangling from the ceiling. While the two artists perform in a trance, a third figure, wearing a head-to-toe fitted number (half burqua, half spidey-suit) knits maniacally in the corner, stopping only to glare at random spectators. This is an only-in-New York moment: Linger, and you’ll be glad you did. Hurry past, and admit you’ve lost your sense of urban wonder. The Covers women are at the Lab Gallery, next to the Roger Smith Hotel, September 16, 18, 21, 23rd and 25th from 5:30-6:30.back ^
Covers: Rush Hour Art, New York Style
By Dora Ohrenstein
crochetinsider.com |Sept 2009
At the busy corner of 47th Street and Lexington Avenue, during the evening rush hour, New Yorkers encountered "COVERS," a performance in the window of the LAB Gallery. A collaboration between choreographer Carrie Ahern and visual artist Olek, it was inspired by three book titles: “Woman, body, identity” "Ladies, Knights and Feminists" and "World without Women." According to the artists' blurb, the piece addresses how desires are projected onto the objects in store windows, and how those desires shift when the objects become live women, vulnerable to the audience’s gaze.
What it was like was more riveting and mysterious. Live women in a store window immediately capture one's attention. These dancers, draped in crochet, are goddesses clothed in recycled fibers, seen by the public through a window reinforced with silver tape in the shape of oversized chain mail. The small store environment is deranged with color, panels of crochet camouflage and shiny silver on the walls, plastic tentacles dangling from the ceiling, strips of tubing stretched from floor to ceiling. On the floor sits a human figure enclosed, except for eyes and glasses, in a red body bag, crocheting non-stop. Nearby are a matching pink television, chair, and dog-like hulk. The dancers move slowly through the space, each entangled in her own web. In the front window a dancer in white has an immense piece of fabric on her head that suggests a wedding veil with a long trunk-like train. Her dress of burlap hangs loosely around her body as she crawls to the window's edge, genuflects very slowly to the outside crowd, and enacts a dream-like sequence that ends with her picking up a small iron covered in crochet. With it, she irons a piece of her dress, then her foot, then her cheek and finally her tongue. A second dancer in the back is a striking beauty showing skin, wearing a hot pink head dress and black bustier. Caught in a giant net, she writhes in very slow motion, finally emerging to grasp a small watering can. The woman in white is a domestic sufferer, the one in pink and black, punishable for her sins, no doubt. The performance evolves very slowly over the course of an hour. The audience is out on the street, where city life is going on in all its teeming chaos. Passersby stop for a moment, watch with curiosity, wonder aloud about what's going on, and move on. A few linger and snap photos. One fella asks if he can jump on the girl the window. Another asks for an interpretation, but when a few sentences in her cell phone rings, that's that. The artists remain in their separate world. A moving and memorable experience.back ^
Eva Yaa Asantewaa.
Carrie Ahern is featured on the Fractured Atlas blog
Emily B | Nov 20, 2008 1:03 pm
Multiplicity of Discourse
Excerpted from a review by Jeffrey Fracè
Very few artists succeed at allowing the audience into the room with the performers; more often, "we" are here and "you" are there. In Ahern's work, we are all here. First, because we all share the process of examination. Second, because Ahern is expert at integrating the architecture of the playing space into the show. Very frequently we are reminded that we are in the very same room as the performers; this is attributable both to the lighting and set designs, but also to the attitude of the performers who apparently share our wonder at their physical surroundings.
The third reason is that Ahern resists the impulse to entertain us. In her audience, I meet her work as though I'm meeting someone who is a rigorous and subtle thinker, and yet completely transparent and forthright. I'm neither tricked nor seduced. Everything is what it is, but because of the quality of our shared interest, it has become extraordinary. In The Unity of Skin, dancers repeat short phrases for hypnotically long durations, they take physically demanding solos, they promenade slowly through the environment, and they entangle themselves in the crocheted set. What's unremarkable in description becomes mesmerizing in execution when performed with a clarity of intention that disallows assumptions, and a force of interest that precludes rote.
Lights come up to reveal dancers in tight formation, repeating short individual circular movement phrases in varying tempi while the live cello offers vibrations. I felt the energy of a river contained by a lock. As the lock opens, there's a rush, and the water pours from the container into the new space, gradually finding equilibrium in the expanse. And so the dancers gradually bring the audience to equilibrium in this room in St. Mark's Church, expanding into space, finding gradually more unison movement, and mixing some retrograde in their expansion as ebb mixes with flow. In their bodies' discourse, the dancers have moved past indication –"this" pointing at "that" –and have created metaphor. The audience is treated to a more immediate experience of their energy, and to a performance that is more truth than representation. We allow ourselves to slow down time, along with the dancers, into a finale that refuses to burst, but instead releases in a long exhale. We can hear our own breathing –or is that the dancers'? In the darkness we are still wondering what happens next.
A Crocheted Dream
Excerpted from a review by Quinn Batson
Offoffoff.com | April 2008
It is never obvious what is going on onstage, but compelling moments and odd set design give this piece many layers of possibility. The light/heavy crocheted netting is used as transport, road, blanket, skirt, barrier and semi-permeable wall; it resembles cells viewed through a microscope, shed snakeskin or a heavy-duty spiderweb. Dancers often interact with each other via the netting, as a source of connection or restriction. The most captivating example of this is the partnering between Figueroa, behind a net wall, and Hayes, on our side of the wall, as she is variously supported, lifted and captured through the holes of the net, as if some sort of tactile mirror or portal of consciousness is interacting with her thoughts and physical being.
Other compelling moments like the protracted and impressive barking by Hayes' "dog," restricted behind a web fence, are inexplicable, but the overall mixture of the piece works really well. Small touches throughout also add richness; two pieces of hanging fabric that begin the piece in stillness near one corner of stage front, for example, begin moving almost imperceptibly and eventually make their way all the way around the perimeters of the stage before falling to the floor. The Unity of Skin feels largely like a dream, a thing of beauty and strangeness haunted by apparently unconnected moments and discontinuous time.
Interpretations of the Unity of Skin
by Rebecca Smith Millstein
Whirling dervish repetition,
taking great care in the
placement of self and things.
The dervish: there is an
unyielding, starched nature to
neck/head placement and arms
Protection? From nature of self?
From the inertia of life?
The soft masculine-such care,
such specificity throughout piece
within a strong framework
In the universal web, tangled up in life,
Rolling in fabric on floor
-will she be swallowed up?
Will she be able to breathe
amidst the chaos,
the wrapped up nature of living,
of the strands of our lives?
Will the other dancers allow her to stay
there or will they peel
the layers to free her?
Perhaps she is swaddled,
constraining against or reveling in?
Maybe not caught
but running headlong
and the nexus who is gently watching,
overseeing whirling cosmos
Intersection of lives-
the connector (connection)
between the other two
Ankles become wrapped,
grounding one in the world.
Choice or vortex pull?
Sound-the air fills with the
vibrations. You can feel it suffuse
your marrow, your fluid self.
Feel it in your skin; through your
bones; in the watery you; through
your many layers.
Dancers their non-selves; their
boundaries; their energy which
moves the space
Layering of one's self
Emanating from the dancers,
pulsing from the space, the walls,
saturating the air in layers
(light through particles?)
sliding along a continuum
Being in the moment vs
on the moment vs mindlessness
Life is fun; life is slippery and
precarious underfoot; challenging
your support (emotional foundation,
making choices contrary to your
norm) or boundaries
The sound returns us to the corporeal
Fearful and menacing
Pushing/landing onto those
powerful boxer front limbs,
so emphatically to the ground beneath
Again, a return to the
daily-ness of our world out of lofty notions Soothed by a simple touch duet on material
duet on material
Letting the universe hold you; the
interconnection of us all (cosmic
strings that separate & unite)
Reaching through and around
obstacles to be with another
giving over to support by another,
by the universe.
Sucked my breath away
with the force of the vortex
brings us back to our world
running back and forth such tiring work to rail
against your boundaries
both seen and silent
and being caught up
Balanced at the end of the world,
standing on the threads
of the world
connection between different
versions of self? Tenuous, strong
the break between two dimensions
laughing and stillness
In the stillness which surrounds
this sound both keeps it contained
and allows it to move beyond itself.
Allows us to move beyond ourselves
Dancers as pure light,
so rich they reflect us in their glow
Nebulous lights, particles... .
Will they bind? Will they float? How
can time hold such a sound for so long?
Did the laughing slow time?
Were the revolutions of this world
aligned with the other dimensions?
When all is just right, harmonized,
will we slow rapturously? Can we?
The spectrums of our self
Which layers will allow for this
and which rebel? How does time slow?
How elastic can these three
show it to be so?
The warp and weft of time,
the structure for experience
in living moments.
Living in moments,
moving through moments.
CultureCatch.com | Feb 2006
There was a certain voyeurism attached to bearing witness to this world. Throughout the work, the dancers took turns watching each other with sinister attention, as if to ensure a sentence would be carried out. The potential harm remained captive in the performance space and was amplified by the virtuosic sound design, which was deftly woven into the work. Kristin Norderval's design incorporated live singing mixed with pre-recorded sound, which was then also recorded and re-mixed to build a complex, ghostly score that fluttered between lullaby and scream. Just when we thought we had this grave, sinister world pegged, miniature basketballs rained down from the balcony, bouncing insanely and immediately exploding the restrained energy of the performance. The sports reference was a brief, anachronistic, zany, masculine intervention in what is otherwise an exclusively somber, female world. The respite from the thick gloom was welcome, yet the influence did not hold long. Gradually, the dancers came to rest, forming a stoic frame for the space in which they resembled statues in a Greek temple, as one woman gathered the basketballs to create a precarious, uncomfortable bed.
By the end of the work, the allusion to Atwood's novel took over. When Ahern kept closely aligned to the themes of the book, the effect was less fascinating than the spin-off world into which she drew us for the first two-thirds of the performance. The line between terror and angst is thin, and the reverential reference to Atwood that had initially inspired the work seemed ultimately to dissipate Ahern's own striking investigation.
Excerpted from a review by Quinn Batson
offoffoff.com | Feb 2006
The first third of this 55-minute piece is exceptional. In the beginning, in darkness, softly shuffling feet make their way behind the audience and down the center aisle onto the dance floor, forming a rough V shape while light rises to a predawn gloam. As a woman races in from offstage and collides with the quiet lines, everyone falls like dominoes and a soprano vocalist slowly begins to create a magic musical environment. There is a wonderful feeling of ancient and primeval in the early stages of this piece, first with strange primate-like behavior and later with dancers moving like a procession of druids or Da Vinci Code priestesses.
Throughout, Ahern plays with the tension created when placidity or tenderness are randomly interrupted by acts of violence, aggression or emotional turmoil. Her stated intent is to explore the dynamics of repression and surface façade versus the "chaos in the underbelly of every society." This sometimes comes across as obsessive-compulsive behavior vs. catatonia, but overall the acts of random violence and love mix. Exploring darker urges also leads the choreography to animal behavior, especially of primates. The effect is subtle and humorous because the movement is often hybrid, as if the dancers are monkey-lizards, cat-baboons or gorilla-cattle.An odd section of mini-basketballs falling from the sky and being treated as dangerous but possibly coveted items is amusing but not overdone.
The almost impossible variety of this piece ends with a circle of running, shoving and falling dancers and one figure tenderly smushing her face into the inert body of the other she has been dragging around the stage. Red is a rich piece, full of unique movement. The stellar music is composed and performed by Kristin Norderval, and the lighting design is by Carol Mullins. Strong performances by Ahern, Julie Betts, Donna Bouthillier, Christina Briggs, Jennifer A. Cooper, Eun Jung Gonzalez, Yoko Sugimoto and especially Carolyn Hall make this a dance feast.