Dance: Matthew Westerby Company: New York Season 2011

by Laura Hankin

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Written by Laura Hankin for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by
Courtesy of Matthew Westerby

5 out of 5 stars


NEW YORK, NY (April 15, 2011) For its first annual New York season at University Settlement, the Matthew Westerby Company presented a series of dance pieces ranging from lighthearted to unsettling. The fledgling company, formed in 2009, showed incredible promise with its thought-provoking compositions and a host of eager, talented dancers.

Dylan Baker and Mandy Chan of the Matthew Westerby Company

The nine performers all moved with such expression and vitality that singling out any one dancer for praise proves impossible. Nearly all numbers in the show made use of te majority of the company’s members, often setting them in separate spheres with different movements before allowing them to come together in moments of startling synchronicity. The only dance for two, Slow Fall, was also the only one to feature Westerby performing in addition to choreographing.

In the piece, Westerby and Alessandra Larson illustrated the dissolution of a relationship, trying to connect with each other but ultimately unable to overcome anger and pain. In a bold, rewarding choice, the music by Radical Fashion became as much of a presence as the two dancers. Larson and Westerby began to move in silence, with beeps and static flickering in and out. The beeps and static gradually gave way to a melancholy piano melody until the dance ended, once again, in silence and separation. The non-traditional music contributed to a sense of things being off-balance between the two lovers, and the final silence was haunting.

Mandy Chan of the Matthew Westerby Company
Hannah Marie Corbin of the Matthew Westerby Company

The intensity continued in Stricken, which spoke powerfully in its New York premiere about Westerby’s struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The dancers, in dim lighting and streaming fog, attempted one by one to wipe something off of their bodies. Their jerky, near-spastic movements overlapped and grew more frenzied, lending the dance a feeling that was initially almost horror movie-like in its desperation. But hope appeared, with dancers breaking off to move alone in spotlights, full of grace and confidence, and then moving together again without the jerkiness and terror.

Each number in the program stood apart from the others in atmosphere, keeping the show constantly surprising. Yet, the varied sections were linked together by a repertoire of certain, simple dance moves highlighting Westerby’s choreographic style. For example, the piece following Stricken, Hell Hath No Fury, took the shape of a traditional Latin partner dance set to music by Pink Martini. Showing a stark contrast to the pain of OCD, this number provided plain old fun. In no time, the audience was laughing aloud at the displays of coquetry and domination by the women, who were having such a good time that it proved nearly impossible to watch the men. But even as the tone differed so completely from anything prior, occasional movements cropped up to ensure cohesion with the earlier dances.

Dylan Baker of the Matthew Westerby Company

With its emphasis on athleticism, the evening also provided some intriguing commentary on gender. In this company, everyone is strong. The men lift the women, yes, but women lift the men too. This playing with traditional gender roles moved a step further in Court, the evening’s final dance, where dancers donned ruffs and corsets with costumes clearly delineated based on their sex (in costumes by Amanda Matea and Wendy Gavan.) Two men in ruffs partnered up in the beginning, only to be relegated to more traditional partners as the dance went on. A female dancer appeared in a man’s costume, but the lack of fanfare accompanying her entry made the gender fluidity seem ordinary.

Overall, Westerby and his company provided an evening of engaging, occasionally thrilling dance. When the second annual New York season comes around, don’t hesitate to attend.

For more information about the Matthew Westerby Company, visit:

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