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soloNOVA's Spell-'Binding' Opening Night

Binding 1

The seventh annual soloNOVA Arts Festival, the longest-running solo festival in NYC, opened last night at PS 122 with the premiere of Binding, a solo dance piece conceived and performed by Jesse Zaritt. Binding is described as a "movement-based quest for love, connection, and the self in which the worlds of pop music, myth, and video collide." But how does a dance piece fit into the soloNOVA Festival's stated dedication to the art of storytelling?

"I think that Binding has a clear emotional and dramatic arc," Zaritt says, "even if the internal narrative that I use as a performer is not the same story that an audience member might experience. While I hope that this work communicates effectively to a broad range of people, and I do often think about how this solo fits into the worlds of dance and theater, ultimately, my primary attention is to the internal logic of the piece."

Of course, I found myself wondering, What is he thinking? What story is he telling? throughout Zaritt's performance. But I should have been more concerned with what I was thinking and feeling during the dance instead, because Zaritt says that each time he performs Binding, even his own internal narrative changes.

"In my opinion, one of the strengths of dance is that each audience member is able to interpret the meaning of the choreography differently," Zaritt says. "While this can be frustrating for some people, I find it exciting when an artist leaves me space as a viewer to create my own relationship to their work."

I have to admit that while I can appreciate Beyonce's fun choreography, or awe-inspiring Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics, I am not, in general, a fan of dance. The idea of interpreting choreography that tells a story without words seemed daunting, if not absolutely headache-inducing, to me -- that is, until the lights went down, Binding began, and I became instantly engrossed in Zaritt's movement that was, to me, a silent physical representation of the story of a love affair, from the never-ending search for love to the sensual high of a shared connection, and the break-up and loneliness that follows.

"Some of the choreographic and dramatic content of Binding comes out of research into mythic narratives surrounding the idea and act of sacrifice, the primal yearning to dissolve one's body in service to love, ideology, or divinity," Zaritt explains. "What is examined in this solo is not just the way a body responds to the drama of love, but also the potentially destructive or redemptive experience of being in thrall of profound faith, spiritual transcendence, fame, or violent coercion."

Binding 2

Zaritt propels himself across the small and intimate space, moving with fluid ease at certain times and (seemingly intentional) labored difficulty at others, demonstrating through his dance the often harrowing trajectory of love and relationships. A fixture to the right of the space is sometimes a bed, but also a pit of despair. A piece of black elastic material may first be his partner's loving embrace, then a weight dragging Zaritt towards rock bottom. Even the shirt he wears may be seen as a protective shield in one moment, but soon after it becomes a more menacing way to symbolize the loss of his own identity. Then again, since Zaritt relies on the viewer to make their own interpretation of the dance, I could be wrong.

"Binding deals with the desire to be in love, in relationship, in connection to other people," Zaritt says. "In this solo, I'm interested in making this desire complicated, in looking at the links and slippage between seduction and violence, vulnerability and power. I hope that the audience will be able to identify with my experience, and that the performance will provoke reflection on the forces that drive us to make ourselves visible, sexy, and available to others. What are the strategies that society encourages us to employ in order to get what we want out of our relationships? And what are the costs of following through with these strategies?"

Okay, I was close.

Zaritt says that performing the only dance piece in a festival otherwise populated by monologues, music, comedy, and spoken word has been a learning experience, as well:

"My work as a performer and creator has mostly been in the somewhat insular world of contemporary dance," Zaritt says, "and being a part of a theater festival is definitely a new experience for me. I have learned to pay much closer attention to the motivation behind my movement, not just in terms of physical or choreographic logic, but in terms of drama and narrative clarity.

"I still find it challenging to let go of my affinity for abstraction," he adds, "but it is exciting to be expanding my range as a performer. The desire I have to communicate through my moving body is stronger than any allegiance I have to a particular dance aesthetic."

Binding, directed by Basmat Hazan, is the inaugural production of Theatre C. Zaritt says that the work was chosen for soloNOVA because Theatre C Artistic director Carlos Armesto was asked to submit a dance theater piece, after the festival producers saw a five-minute excerpt of a solo piece Zaritt created for Theatre C's inaugural event in November 2009. Binding is co-commissioned by Theatre C and the LABA artist residency program of the 14th Street Y.

"I had the chance to see Jesse's work at Theatre C's benefit last last year," soloNOVA artistic director Jennifer Conley Darling says. "I was so impressed and moved by the emotion in his work, as well as the way he moves his body -- a mixture of violent and fluid. I've never seen anything like this, and I knew he was special and wanted him to apply" for soloNOVA.

SoloNOVA banner logo soloNOVA, produced by terraNOVA Collective, "celebrates innovative individuals who push the boundaries of what it means to be an artist, aims to redefine the solo form, and uniquely invigorates the audience through the time-honored tradition of storytelling."

'Binding' performs May 7, 12 & 15 at 9:15 p.m. and May 8 at 4:15 p.m. at Performance Space 122, 150 First Ave. (at 9th St.), as part of the seventh annual soloNOVA Arts Festival, which runs through May 22. For more info about soloNOVA and to purchase tickets, visit the soloNOVA website.

Back Stage is a sponsor of the soloNOVA Arts Festival.

-- Daniel Lehman

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