Current Sessions Choreographs Its Next Move
BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | The word “resist” is enjoying an upswing in popularity as of late. For those who oppose the current administration it is a state of mind, a clarion call, a political action, a verb to emblazon on banners, and, of course, a hashtag. But what does resistance look like — how does it manifest — when it comes to art?
Alexis Convento, founder of the Current Sessions (TCS), is looking for dancers, choreographers, skateboarders, bodybuilders, martial arts practitioners, visual artists and others to explore the theme of resistance for an upcoming series. As a performing arts organization, TCS has been presenting such curated mixed-bill series at the East Village’s Wild Project since the summer of 2011.
“Participating artists will develop choreography from the disobedient and destabilizing to the imaginative and the revolutionary,” Convento said in a recent email to Chelsea Now. “Resistance looks to further classify movement into a broader spectrum by challenging systems of making and observing dance.”
Convento said the theme feels like a protest of sorts, especially when connected to the current administration. “Many marginalized groups — black and brown bodies, LGBTQIA, natives, and immigrants — are the most vulnerable,” she said. “I want to make sure that stories from these people are presented; however, TCS needs to be diligent on creating a space that can feel safe, is approachable, and open to critique, for both those presenting work, and those attending the event.”
Convento met with this publication at Ludlow House social club (139 Ludlow St., btw. Stanton & Rivington Sts.) before the election, and said she was considering resistance for this year’s series’ overarching theme. For each of the more recent series, there was an overarching theme, with each evening having its own sub-theme, she explained.
For instance, the last TCS series addressed the overall theme of value, with one of the evenings focused on debt, she said. It is a way to be able to curate the works to have a through line, Convento said. She called it “magical” when two choreographers use the same movement phase with different intentions and staging.
In Jessica Pretty’s piece called “the third.,” she did a lot of gestures — like throwing her hands up — that evoked Black Lives Matter while she faced the audience, Convento said. Another choreographer, Bobbi Jene Smith, also used the same hands up movement in her work “Desert,” but did it facing upstage, away from the audience, she explained.
Sessions’ move toward social issues marks an evolution in what the organization presents — it started out more focused on spontaneity of movement. In 2011, Convento was working with performance artist Narcissister (narcissister.com), and through her met Ana Mari de Quesada. De Quesada, now the producing artistic director of the not-for-profit Wild Project, had a few nights available at the space and emailed Convento asking to see if she wanted to produce a night at the venue.
“At the time, for some reason, I was like, ‘Yeah!’ ” Convento recalled. “I had no experience in production or administration. That’s all self-taught from Current Sessions.”
Originally from Philadelphia, Convento said she has been in the dance sphere since she was three, and was trained in ballet as well as tap and hoofing from the ages of 10 to 17. She moved to New York to get a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance, a joint program at Fordham University with the Ailey School. Trained in Balanchine and Vaganova methods, Convento learned Graham and Horton at Ailey, graduating in 2008.
Before starting TCS, she did the whole route of auditioning and had an agent, landing a French tour with Mylène Farmer, whom Convento said is like the Madonna of France. Her experiences motivated her to discover a broader range of expression, and want to fuse performance art with dance.
She had begun to make her own work when de Quesada approached her about the night at the Wild Project (195 East Third St., btw. Aves. A & B; thewildproject.com). “She was onboard,” de Quesada said in a phone interview. “She took the challenge.”
Convento ended up linking up with friends of friends, who were interested in creating dance pieces for the night. Allison Jones, Jonathan Royse Windham, Yin Yue, Genna Baroni and Yarden Raz were the first choreographers TCS presented for two shows in July 2011, Convento said.
“I hired one lighting designer. I had no idea I needed a sound designer,” she said with a laugh. “It went really well — surprising, with the lack of coordination and the lack of the time to prepare.”
After the show, Convento said they received a lot of compliments about how the works felt cohesive yet distinct. The choreographers, she said, were working in a similar branch of contemporary dance called Gaga — a movement language created by Ohad Naharin. “I think because of the success or the praise that we got after that, I was curious to email Ana Mari from the Wild Project to get to see if there was some more time that she wanted to give to us, and we had our second one in November,” Convento said.
TCS has been housed at the Wild Project since then. “What I really love is the community of choreographers that they bring in,” de Quesada said. “It’s introducing dance to many people. It’s amazing to see them express different things.”
Convento said, “Wild Project is smaller, more intimate, so a lot of details in the work really shine through there.”
The Current Sessions has received funding through a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council grant, and is also looking to branch out to pair with other organizations on curatorial performance series, Convento said.
“The more and more we’ve been doing this, the more and more we’ve been realizing we’re a service to artists; it’s not just a show,” she said. “We put in a lot of effort to communicating with the artists and working with the artists beforehand to make sure that they feel okay, and that they feel safe to present.”
Convento hopes to spur conversations among the artists and among the audience. “I believe that these stories can promote change, can allow one to process and heal, and to hopefully uplift and bring together a community,” she said.
To apply for the August series, “Volume VII: On Resistance,” visit thecurrentsessions.com/up-next — which also has info on April 14 & 15’s “TCS x Roya Carreras: The Big Balloon” (at the Wild Project) and Convento’s June 3 & 4 curated programs (part of the La MaMa Moves festival).