Alexa West
March 11 – 13, 2022

390 Broadway, Second Floor
New York, NY 10013

Photo: Miles Pflanz.

a choreography featuring Savannah Lyons-Anthony, Sharleen Chidiac,
Cayleen Del Rosario, Jade Manns, and Owen Prum

Rolling across the horizon like tumbleweeds, the oil barrels are running dry again. Seen farther down the road, a lone tire, sized for a compact electric car, is leaking air to the point that it has become lopsided and can’t stand up on its own anymore. The radio is on full blast. After flipping through a couple of oldies and pop stations, the weather is finally announced, today is sunny and 78 degrees, and the S&P 500 is down 135 points. Seen in the rearview mirror a field of pumpjacks are silently nodding in compliance, while gleaming office parks loom into view ahead. At long last, you have reached the Energy Corridor.

Developed over the last year, Pumpjack is a choreography by Alexa West that examines shifting psychological states within recent decades of “American Industry”, with The Energy Corridor in Houston, Texas as its genesis.

The Energy Corridor is a business district and an economic nerve ending. Located on the outskirts of the city the Corridor is a hub for energy company headquarters, including businesses specializing in the extraction and refinement of crude-oil. Nationwide, the spot price of crude-oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange is an unofficial indicator of American economic performance. Stored in barrels and colloquially referenced as such, the daily spot price of oil per barrel is commonly mentioned on news channels. Much like weather reporting, oil per barrel pricing is a measurement that contextualizes the incremental changes in our daily existence as a nation within a globalized world. At the time of writing this document, oil was trading higher than usual at $121.50 / barrel, influenced in part by ongoing American pandemic related inflation and the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Situated in a theaterized-industrial landscape, Pumpjack draws upon quasi-fictionalized materials from the artifacts and lore surrounding “Texas Oil”. The movements presented in Pumpjack relate to ideas of commodity and exchange, and are sourced from existing cultural phenomena, created from scratch, or deconstructed beyond recognition. Indicative of this ethos, the iconic Scarecrow’s dance from The Wizard of Oz is gutted of its original context: shown without its original music, lyrics, or costume. These stylistic omissions leave bare the emotional archetype of the character: a stereotypical reputation of the American farmer and their perceived lack of political intelligence, who sings “if I only had a brain.” Movements that are now considered obsolete or out of style are featured, including a system of hand signals used on financial trading floors to communicate buy and sell stock prices, and fast-paced, high-intensity techno gabber dancing from 1990’s Rotterdam. Borrowing from Looney Tunes-esque slapstick comedy, interpersonal dynamics between characters are loosely built and subsequently dismantled throughout the piece. Intentionally disparate, these referential gestures create a kaleidoscopic display of “Industry” as a concept, and foreground the ensemble of characters that toil, profit, suffer, and are alienated in its wake. Pumpjack’s prerogative is to not distill an easily digestible essay of movements, but rather to entangle them into a larger, messier vocabulary that is absurdist, entropic, playful, and poignant.

– Moira Sims

Photos: Andrew Jarman

Video by Lili Dekker.

Video by Jacob Lazovick. 

Special thanks to Kathleen Engman, who was an integral part of forming the choreography and was an original cast member. Due to unforeseen circumstances Kathleen was not able to perform, but her energy and contributions are deeply resonant within the piece.

Thank you to Cooper Campbell, Lili Dekker, Eden Deering, Olivia Drusin, Andrew Jarman, Sarah Kinlaw, Jacob Lazovick, Erin Leland, Richard McDonough, Harrison Milne, Wendy Olsoff, Miles Phlanz, Penny Pilkington, Arthur Purvis, Mira Putnam, Simone Subal, Viktor Timofeev, and Lulu White.

This work was developed in part through New Dance Alliance’s LiftOff Residency, and with the support of the KinoSaito Art Center.

Alexa West (b. 1991 Houston, Texas) is an artist and choreographer based in New York City. Her research examines the materials and spaces that impact human motion to illustrate the hilarious and absurd conditions that frame our collective embodiment. She works collaboratively with performers. West studied in the professional training program at the Martha Graham School before receiving her BFA from the Cooper Union. Her work has been presented in spaces around New York, New York and Houston, Texas and she has been an artist in residence with Chez Bushwick and Otion Front in Brooklyn, NY. West is currently a MFA candidate at Bard College, Milton Avery School of the Arts.