PREVIEW: Nick & James at Highways in a Tribute, Highways Performance Space, Santa Monica, Friday and Saturday, March 16 and 17, 2012

Nick Duran, left, and Jmy James Kidd work out final details of their upcoming performance at Highways

I have almost zero knowledge of dance history or contemporary dance, so I thought I wouldn’t be qualified to write about Nick & James at Highways in a Tribute, a new collaborative dance work by Nick Duran and Jmy James Kidd. As it turns out however, I might be the perfect person to write about this show, and you might be too.

Both Nick and James are natives of California, but both have also done significant time as dancers in New York’s intensely concentrated contemporary scene. They describe the dancer’s life in New York as highly pressurized and full of the anxiety of influence: “You go to rehearsals constantly, and in those rehearsals people are always talking about what they’ve seen, and there is a lot to see in New York, and everyone knows every last reference that is being made in the dances, and everyone is critiquing them,” said James. “It’s really hard to find the mental space to make your own work there, not to mention the material challenges of finding affordable places to do your work.”

Nick and James, who met while dancing with noted choreographer Neil Greenberg (the “tribute” in the title is meant for him), both relocated to LA not too long ago, and both found LA’s relaxed, open atmosphere a huge relief, as well as a boon to their own creative processes. Here, they are able to work from themselves and from their memory of movements, perhaps working out past doubts in new ways, free from the incessant chatter and judgment of their dance world peers. They feel they can do anything here; they didn’t feel that way in New York.

Their dances together are a close negotiation between peers. While the choreography comes to them intuitively, they take the time to discuss in detail the reasoning and values behind each decision. And while the sources of the work are important to them, they don’t feel it’s important for viewers to know them—they would prefer that viewers run with their own interpretations.

Nick and James will present their new collaborative piece at Highways this weekend. Today, I had the pleasure of previewing it at rehearsal. I tried to relax and simply look at what I was seeing as a work of art, and not think about all the dance references that I was missing. There was clearly a lot going on in the piece, but it was so experimentally carefree that sources and precedents did not seem as important as where the work might take you, in your own mind.

The piece exhibited for me an interesting tension between a longing for narrative and a giving in to total abstraction, as in a painting or sculpture. Some gestures seemed to want to tell a story, while others defeated the story with Dadaist flourish. I especially enjoyed the oddly unexpected movements here and there—James shaking her hips in the midst of a solemn pose, or Nick climbing atop a tall stack of books and balancing himself perfectly without falling, or both dancers looking at each other with their tongues hanging out of their mouths. The two also made theatrical use of a large black curtain, disappearing behind it periodically and reappearing with movements that were reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphics or Nijinsky’s classic interpretation of Afternoon of a Faun.

The two presentations this weekend, at 8:30pm Friday and Saturday night, will include an opening solo dance number by Erin Beneze and live musical accompaniment throughout by Archie Carey and Odeya Nini. The whole evening will unfold like a ceremony, and Highways’ wonderfully colorful green room will be used as an after-dance lounge space. Get your tickets now, it’s gonna be good!

Highways' fabulous green room will serve as a lounge and "gift shop" following the performance

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