By Tresca Weinstein The Times Union Albany September 7, 2013
Just as actors really want to direct, dancers often aspire to become choreographers. Though the two skills are inextricably intertwined, being good at one doesn't guarantee you can do the other.
Claire Jacob-Zysman is best known in these parts as a longtime member of the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company, but the good news is that she's also a blossoming choreographer. She choreographs the way she dances—with energy, fluidity and a visceral sense of wonder.
Jacob-Zysman showed four recent works, performed with five of her fellow Sinopoli dancers, Friday evening at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. Three of them felt particularly related, linked by the atmosphere they evoke of natural forces at play—powerful vectors, magnetism and the laws of physics.
The trio "birth to a dancing star" imagines a universe in which change is constant, but not random. Sara Senecal, Laura Teeter and Jacob-Zysman are buoyant molecules colliding and fusing with each other, clustering together and then expanding out into space. There's a feeling of underlying direction in their directionlessness, which is perfectly paired with the ambient music of Control X.
In "Vessels," Senecal is like a moon circling the planets embodied by Melissa George, Teeter and Andre Robles. Here, as in the duet "Refract," with George and Robles, curves and circles are balanced with sharp angles and straight lines. In "Refract," the two are ineluctably drawn together at the center of the stage, then whirl apart, only to intersect again in new ways.
"When she sings, I can feel her breath" is the kind of piece one can imagine Jacob-Zysman showing again and again over the years. Costumed in dresses by Kim Vanyo that look like burlap colored with plant dyes, the four women each have distinct personalities, enhanced by the earthy accompaniment of songs by Savina Yannatou, Rokia Traore and Malouma (from Greece, Mali and Mauritania, respectively).
Senecal's character starts out contained and constrained, but grows gradually more distraught, until the other women surround her and hold her up. Marie Klaiber projects strength and confidence, arms held high, literally using the crouching women as stepping stones. Teeter is all quick, nervous movements, enigmatic and staccato, while Jacob-Zysman dances the most lyrical, yearning section. Throughout, the piece is made richer by the "chorus" of women who reflect and support the soloist.
Jacob-Zysman also included a playful audience-directed improvisation, asking viewers to call out words to inspire the dancers' movement, along with numbers that determined what music would accompany the improv. Riffing on the words "wind," "cloud," "rattle" and "tangled," the dancers effortlessly created synthesis and cohesion.
Claire Jacob-Zysman and Dancers add improv to movement
By Tresca Weinstein The Times Union Albany September 4, 2013
Dancer and choreographer Claire Jacob-Zysman will take a page from improv comedy Friday evening, when she gives audience members the opportunity to help create the shape of a dance as it happens.
"The audience will offer words to give the dancers as inspiration to create movement," she said in a recent interview. They'll also randomly choose the music for the piece, by picking a number from one to 10. At a second performance Saturday afternoon, the dancers will take their inspiration from children's drawings made during creative movement workshops earlier that day.
The program for both shows also includes four works by Jacob-Zysman, best known as a member of the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Companysince 2006. She brings together five fellow Sinopoli dancers for performances on Friday at 7 p.m. — as part of Albany's First Friday — and Saturday at 2 p.m. The free creative movement workshops, for ages 3 to 18, take place Saturday between 11 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.
Jacob-Zysman began dancing at age 6, though she was very shy and insisted that she wouldn't be in the recital — "Of course, I was in the recital and loved it," she remembers. Modern dance "clicked" for her in high school, and she majored in dance at the University at Buffalo. But she didn't make it to her graduation in June 2006 — she was auditioning for Sinopoli instead.
"I've benefited so much from being able to watch Ellen over the years, and learning about the creative and artistic process," she said. Jacob-Zysman has shown her work twice before at First Friday, as well as in other regional showcases. This year, she expanded her First Friday offerings to two shows and added the youth workshops with the help of an Individual Artist Commission Grant, funded by the Arts Center of the Capital Region through the state Council on the Arts.
"It's a natural progression for dancers to expand beyond pure performance, and for Claire that's choreography," Sinopoli said. "This is a passion for her, and each time I see her work, it's stronger, more articulate and more architecturally sound."
For Jacob-Zysman, the stories that dance can tell are as important as the movement.
"I really enjoy thinking about the character of the dancer — Who is this person? Where are they? What are they doing? — and exploring their relationships to each other and the audience," she said. "To me, dance gives you the opportunity to be all these different people that maybe you would never be comfortable being in everyday life."
She brings four such characters to life in "When she sings, I can feel her breath," a 2013 work that she performs this weekend with Marie Klaiber, Sara Senecal and Laura Teeter. The starting place for the piece was the music: songs by the Greek singer Savina Yannatou, the Malian singer Rokia Traore and Malouma, a singer from Mauritania who melds western and Moorish styles. Their combined languages include Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Arabic and Bembara (a dialect spoken in Mali).
"I didn't understand the words, so it became about the sounds and breath more than a literal meaning," Jacob-Zysman said.
Her new duet, "Refract," grew out of "the idea of how light enters a prism and goes outward in different directions — a feeling of being drawn into the center and then pulled away," she said. The title of her 2012 trio, "birth to a dancing star," comes from a Friedrich Nietzsche quote. It's part of a longer piece inspired in part by the poetry of Stuart Bartow, whom she met when he came to her performance on the Jacob's Pillow Inside/Out stage last summer. The piece explores "the chaos of the universe, and how we as humans can reflect this chaos in our bodies, in an organized way," Jacob-Zysman said.
"Vessels" came out of a project she did with Sinopoli, in which they collaborated withGermantown High School students who had recently seen a one-man show based on Tim O'Brien's book "The Things They Carried."
"They wrote down some of the things they carry — their physical traits and also the things that make us who we are — and we as dancers selected some of the stories and created a dance with that idea," Jacob-Zysman said.
Passionate about making dance accessible to everyone, and particularly young people, Jacob-Zysman has taught preschoolers on up to teenagers, through Sinopoli's arts-in-education programs as well as independently at local dance schools.
"Dance has helped me express myself in ways I wouldn't express myself in everyday life," she said. "To be able to know and be comfortable with yourself and your body, and share that confidence in how you interact with the world — it's great practice for life."
A UB dance reunion
By Shu Yee Rachel Lim The Spectrum Buffalo, NY September 23, 2012
The stage last saw them as eager young students. They returned as dance professionals and brought the experience that led them to success.
At last Saturday’s Back to Buffalo 4, An Alumni Dance Concert, eight former UB graduates returned to their alma mater to showcase their professional talents on Center for the Arts’ stage. [...] Claire Jacob-Zysman, paired with Sara Senecal to perform “a single dot of light.” They looked like a yin and yang that conspired harmoniously with each other – reflecting each other’s movements and supporting each other.
“They were beautiful and so grounded in their movement … it was very affecting,” said Tamara Hopersberger, 40, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Jacob-Zysman and Senecal ended their piece rolling on the floor in a figurative loop. Alireza Bakhtiar, a senior business administration major, said an image clicked in his mind when he saw Jacob-Zysman and Senecal perform.
“I saw two friends who could support each other in their emotional lives and how that support continues in life,” Bakhtiar said.