On a warm evening marking New York City’s approach to a rejuvenating post-pandemic summer, internationally recognized dancer and choreographer LaTasha Barnes led an ensemble through an exploration of jazz dance. A fusion of improv and arrangement, the thirty minute program ran as part of Works & Process, the art performance series commissioned in-person at the Guggenheim museum through June.
The space offered the unique experience of viewing a performance from above, as audience members lined up on the spiraled ramp, awaiting the dancers entrance to the rotunda below. The performers’ colorful blazers embodied the spirit of the night – one of liberated jubilation and a curiosity for the unpredictable expressions of physical release.
Required masks and social distance didn’t stop attendees from grooving to the beats of the live jazz and DJ accompaniment. Looking around at one point during a short techno digression, one could find the audience pulsing in harmony, signaling an innate desire to join in on the fun.
Erratic bursts of applause throughout the evening mirrored the syncopated rhythms of the dancers, whose movements varied between solo improv, dance-offs and paired coordination. A true fast-slow continuum, the seven dancers glided through time and space, their movements at once both directing and submitting to the musical progressions.
Works & Process is known for commissions that seek to collapse distance between audience and performer. After a year of isolation, initiatives like these are critical, not only as a restorative medium for the arts, but also as a process of recovery for all of us. To witness these performances – to move in response to and within them – encourages a reawakening in the soul of the city that feels more essential than ever.
At the end of the night, this resolve was never more acutely manifested than on the face of Barnes, as she offered up thanks amid thunderous cheering. An emotive wash of triumph and labor, her program was a twofold achievement, as it both acknowledged our past collective suffering and allowed us a foretaste of the festivities on New York’s horizon.