The Dance Cartel Brings Jubilation and Humor Back to Dance
It is rehearsal, several weeks before the dance company's return to the Ace Hotel for its oft-packed On the Floor and it is time for new material. Dancers do half cartwheels through the studio floor, slow move with a disco ball, point a leg and shoot (as if their leg was a semi-automatic) and fly with a make-shift cape. They are focused, watching their characters in the mirror and seeing what sticks, and they are laughing, joking about how silly they look.
Photo Sasha Arutyunova
This new opening they're trying to build, explains Dance Cartel founder and choreographer Ani Taj, who was surveying the scene, seeking nuggets for the show and rehearsing new moves herself, is a way to magnify the dancers' own quirks. Days before she'd asked them to consider, "What's the Power Ranger or superhero version of you inside the Dance Cartel? How does that assemble into this wacky team?"
See also: Inside NYC's Burgeoning Folk Scene
Photo by Maddy Talias Reggie Watts
The Dance Cartel is eight dancers come together for a common goal: to make dance joyful for everyone involved (the viewers, themselves, even the tech people, says veteran Cartel member Alexandra Albrecht). The company was born in 2011 when Taj found herself frustrated with a sense of jubilation and humor missing in the dance world. Audience members didn't "feel permission to respond with laughter or excitement," she says.
Wanting to create a space where dance and the various responses to it were welcome, she held auditions, assembling a team of dancers from a variety of performance backgrounds and putting on their first show at BjorkBall in 2011. Ken Friedman, owner of the Breslin and responsible for booking events at the Ace's basement venue, Liberty Hall, saw the show and felt it would be a good fit. On the Floor, crafted specifically for Liberty, premiered in June of 2012 and has been coming back regularly since.
Colorful and multifaceted, On the Floor weaves solo and group dances through audience members (Liberty has no stage, dancers are literally on the floor) and features moments of video, quiet song and artist collaborations. Music spans the gamut from pop to hip-hop to Brazilian and collaborators range from visual artists to comedians, the roster having included musical comedian Reggie Watts and electro-pop duo Cibo Matto. At the end of the night the DJ continues to spin and the Dance Cartel joins the crowd for a party.
Photo by Maddy Talias Cibo Matto
"There is no barrier," says Cibo Matto, who performed in the company's final 2013 show. "It's a celebration."
The dancers have cast aside their superheroes and stand in two lines, relaxed and ready to rehearse new moves in unison. They vogue, framing their faces. They shuffle through the floor, their feet the only part that's moving. They bounce. Taj is up front leading and watching. "Grosser," she'll say, "take a walk."
Though iterations of the Cartel have changed, emphasis on variation in performance background remains. The company, like its premier show, is made of an eclectic mix. There are die-hard, lifelong dancers like the Cartel's oldest member Albrecht and its newest member Sunny Hitt. nicHi douglas is a comedic actor and writer. Thomas Gibbons is a model. Each performer brings his or her own flavor with the variation, says Taj, offering another point of connection for attendees. It "creates a wider open door for the audience," she says. "What I'm interested in creating is access points to dance for people."