By Martha Sherman
Copyright © 2011 by Martha Sherman
• “The White Room” Jennifer Muller/The Works
• “Turbulence” Jody Sperling/Time Lapse Dance
• “Washington Square Dances” Naomi Goldberg Haas/Dances for a Variable Population
• “Painted Bird Part 2: Amidst” Pavel Zuštiak/Palissimo
• Old School 122 Benefit 07/22-25/2011
"The White Room”
Jennifer Muller/The Works
New York, NY
June 22, 2011
A young innocent girl is damaged by the world and becomes wiser, but remains uncorrupted. Jennifer Muller used this familiar tale to frame “The White Room,” and although the choreography was impressive and dancers skilled, the dance didn’t offer much that was new. Muller, who spent years dancing with Jose Limon, draws her movement technique from that tradition; the balletic discipline and strength of her dancers permeates each scene.
On the unusually wide stage carved for her from Cedar Lake’s grand dance space, the choreographic structures were most interesting when Muller moved dancers from parallel patterns into shifting partnerships: solos to duets to trios, quartets and quintets breaking back into pairs. In the end, though, this world premiere, the first full-evening work by Muller in 15 years, spent too much time repeating itself.
“The White Room” was filled with story characters, none labeled in the program, but each a recognizable archetype: the Innocent Girl (Hsing-Hua Wang), the Girlfriend (Jen Peters) who leaves for a Boyfriend (Mario Bermudez Gil), and the Bully (Abdul Latif), among many others. Wang, an intern with Muller’s company, danced with the right balance of crisp movement and soft edge, her twirl and light step telling of innocence. Among many fine dancers, the girl who was desired by all the men (Rosie Lani Fiedelman) was a standout; in the story, she was the sad lesson of what Wang could become; she infused the energy of her movement with a sense of isolation and yearning. In the moments, though, when she escaped to her lover (Alvon Reed,) her smooth step lightened, their lifts were buoyant.
A cello score accompanied the work, shifting between slow melodic lines for the scenes of innocence and love, and jarring, rhythmic sequences, particularly in the male group dances. Led by the Big Man (Pascal Rekoert) they were danced in quartets and quintets, with each male dancer at some point moving in and out of a duet challenges to Rekoert, which he always rebuffed. In the background, a projection of a steel and glass building placed these scenes in the big cold world of business. The Girl’s residential prison was also set by a projection image: an institutional, foreboding interior, inhabited by a chilling Mrs. Danvers-like character (Susanna Bozzetti) whose harshness stood in direct contrast to the tender heroine.
The girls, in an arresting brothel-like setting, combed their hair in a huddle and were interrupted by several of the men who competed for their attentions. As the girls separated, red cloth panels fell from the ceiling in the most visually engaging scene, each panel hiding one of the girls and providing them with silky foils to move in and around. In a later scene, though, Muller used the same trick, dropping lighter colored panels around individual dancers. The second time was much less interesting, and unfortunately, this was the problem with much of the evening – too much repetition of the same material, same steps, same relationships and conflicts. Despite the fine dancing and production values, the full-length evening was too long.
"Turbulence,” “Not Here Yet,” “Clair de lune”
Jody Sperling/Time Lapse Dance
Baryshnikov Arts Center
New York, NY
June 25, 2011
Jody Sperling, in the 34th week of her pregnancy, is light as air. An acolyte of Loïe Fuller, Sperling sandwiched the premiere of a new group work, “Turbulence,” between two of her own solos, and floated through them in a small triumph of choreography over gravity. In her short opening occasion piece, “Not Here Yet,” Sperling danced a solo without the silk props that are her signature. She didn’t shy from focusing on her very pregnant belly, a perfect curve that fit into the small, smooth movements the choreographer chose. She started by dancing within her own arm’s reach, then she expanded the circle; everything about her was round.
Danced by six women both with and without capes of light silk (what Sperling calls silk “à La Loïe”,) and with wooden dowels to lengthen the reach of the fabric, “Turbulence” makes visible the flow and force of air currents, eddies of movement in unexpected symmetries. The sweep of the dancers’ arms, legs, and whirling bodies were the conduits, and the billowing fabric danced the dance. The score, composed by Quentin Chiappetta, was played by Robert (Tigger) Benford on exotic drums and bells, tuneful percussion that both led and followed the movement.
To close the program, Sperling returned to dance her solo “Claire de Lune,” this time enveloped in silk, with rippling Debussy piano correlative to the motion. Like a levitating Mother Earth, she filled the stage with giant clam shell ripples at the edges of expansive wafting circles of silk, and finally became a full frontal angel with wings extended.
“Washington Square Dances”
Naomi Goldberg Haas/Dances for a Variable Population
Garibaldi Plaza in Washington Square Park
New York, NY
June 25, 2011
The new stage just completed in the revitalized Washington Square Park was made for Naomi Goldberg Haas and her open-armed group, Dances for a Variable Population. Her choreography is an art form built on an idea: she invites dancers – women – of all ages and shapes, to move in organic patterns. Everyone can dance, her choreography proclaims: and they do.
The stage has been built a few feet above Garibaldi Square, with both steps and ramps leading up to it. The dancers sat on benches on either side of the stage to watch each other, then made their way up either route, the older dancers sometimes escorted up the ramp to meet their younger partners. Their costumes were black and white, or green, like the park itself. In shifting scenes, the dancers saluted the sky, with arms and legs lifted to their own levels of possibility. They moved around each other in idiosyncratic ways, focusing on wiggling finger movements, shoulder shrugs or lunges. With their unexpected angles, it became a dance in the round for an audience who sat formally in front, but in fact watched from every direction in the park. The music was a varied group of remixes, from tuneful to hip-hop, of Terry Riley’s 1964 composition “In C.”
Except for an occasional touch, each dancer had her own movement. The younger dancers’ movements were higher, wider, taller, but echoed the thought and joyfulness of their older partners, who focused more on smaller gestures, like graceful weight shifts from hip to hip. Sometimes the younger dancers positioned the limbs of their older partners, sculpting them. When they did touch, it was not to leverage, but connect.
Betty Williams is a slender, older dancer who often works with Goldberg Haas and, despite her seeming fragility, shows a spine of steel. She entered from the stairs and was joined by two younger dancers who sat at her feet like disciples. A third dancer moved in parallel with Williams, then the group followed her lead, weaving hand gestures, arms waving, their bodies releasing in a downward roll. In one gesture, Williams leaned toward a dancer to touch her head gently, as if offering a blessing.
At the end of the piece, scores of additional dancers joined the dance, and the audience was invited to celebrate, too. The stage and the re-creation of a completely enlivened Washington Square feels like welcoming space for a Variable Population.
"The Painted Bird: Amidst [Part II]”
Pavel Zuštiak/Palissimo Company
Baryshnikov Arts Center
New York, NY
June 25, 2011
We entered in mist, left in mist, and wandered Pavel Zuštiak’s “Amidst” engulfed in mist. The disorienting world premiere of Part II of his “Painted Bird” trilogy, “Amidst” was a blend of dance movement, projected images, light patterns, facial expression – and a confusing, insistent fog. The trio of dancers, including Zuštiak, Lindsey Dietz Marchant, and Nicholas Bruder, radiated paranoia in movement that highlighted their isolation in the mist, even when they danced together.
The score, live music by Christian Frederickson (who was joined by band members Ryan Rumery and Jason Noble,) added to the pressure. As the musicians shifted from sinister electric cacophony to lilting melody, the audience followed the elusive trio of dancers who slid around the stage in a mysterious story. Often, the three were completely separated and the crowd was everywhere; to watch one dancer, you missed the others, or you wondered if – and where – the others were. The musicians, with their electric guitar, violin, piano and drums were the most stable figures in the space.
Zuštiak’s dance is loosely based on Jerzy Kosiński’s novel The Painted Bird which tells of a boy’s journey through towns in Europe during World War II. The book is filled with sinister experiences as seen through his young eyes, raw, incomprehensible, often hideous. “Amidst” also suggested a haunting and sinister journey with projected images of blurry bodies reminiscent of Nazi atrocities, and the frantic movement and intersections of the dancers, pressured and troubled.
In a harsh corridor of light (the lighting and design by Joe Levasseur,) Bruder paced like a caged tiger, moving increasingly quickly until almost hitting the wall in his frenzy. Ahead of him, in her separate world, was Marchant, who emerged from the haze of a distant corner. A ghostly projection shimmered on the wall behind her, as she danced in high red heels that she later pulled off, morphing her character with her shoes.
The three dancers converged moving in and out of another harshly lit space, a small round circle of light in the center; each danced idiosyncratic moves that didn’t fit in the space, but were trapped within the radius, until replaced by one of the others. After other solos split across the space, the three met again in a corner and slithered on their bellies, a tight trio on the floor rolling over each other and nudging their way among the audience. The viewers didn’t know where to go and how to watch but still stood apart – like the boy of the Kosiński tale.
Throughout the dancers’ intersecting journeys, another light pattern was periodically sketched on the floor. At first, just criss-crossed lines, the designs soon became borders and routes, with arrows outlining a complicated path, a journey that kept folding back and crossing its own tracks. Just as the dancers wove a path, so did the audience; after trying to follow the dancers, some audience members seemed to give up; they sat on the floor, to see whatever came back their way. Some wandered back to the band who, at least, offered an anchor. The dancers faded into the darkness, and a series of old photographic portraits were projected on the wall, like a lost community. The most disorienting reminders of the terrors of that war, though, came from the emotional impact of the dance, and the audience’s own foggy path.
“Old School 122 Benefit”
New York, NY
June 22-25, 2011
PS 122’s past is legendary, and the artists it has nurtured still surprise in their scope and depth. Over four nights, more than 60 artists performed snippets of reprises from the last thirty years, sprinkled with new works. I saw only a portion of them on June 22 and June 24; even that fragment offered impressive breadth in the history of performance art and dance as contemporary forms.
Jennifer Miller, the bearded woman, co-founder of Circus Amok in the 1980’s, invited the audience to join her in a dance improvisation she did rolling on the floor along with a backstage guest, artist Jennifer Monson. So many of the audience were artists themselves, with histories at PS 122, that several obliged, throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the scene.
Many of the reprises were familiar to audience devotees. Ishmael Houston-Jones brought back THEM, here danced by a lithe, focused Jones with Arturo Vidich, (himself a legend in the making,) who danced blindfolded, fluid and intuitive. Ain Gordon gave his “Show Business Monologue,” a rich, piece he had first offered at PS 122 a decade earlier, including then current references to PS 122 performance icons who have since been lost, including Spalding Grey, whose stage was this stage.
The new works included occasion pieces filled with nostalgia for the last 30 years. Among them was Sarah Maxfield’s “A Partial History Between Two Columns,” an unapologetically sentimental soliloquy, her own Show Business Monologue for PS 122. As the latest chapter in her exploration of the ephemeral nature of dance and performance art, Maxfield focused here on stories and shared collective memory. After each night’s performance, she interviewed performers and others about their memories of PS 122, as more material for her creative process.
The history being made between the two columns of PS 122’s performing space was not just the dance, per se. On June 24, as the Marriage Equality bill was passed by the New York Senate, the stage (and the Village) erupted in excitement; a lesbian couple was invited onstage to be “married,” and the audience became the performing troupe.
The four-day event also launched a transition into a radical theater experiment. As the building is renovated and rebuilt over the next three years, PS 122’s goal is to continue as an idea – a moving feast of dance and performance art, without a brick and mortar home, kept alive by its artists, its audience and its mission. This four-day reminder of the power of its past was a significant start for its radical and risky move into the next phase.
copyright © 2011 by Martha Sherman
Top Photo by Paula Lobo: Alvon Reed, Rosie Lani Fiedelman in “The White Room”
Second Photo by Jody Sperling: Marissa Maislen in “Turbulence”
Third Photo by Meg Goldman: Jackie Ferrara and Molly Lieber in “Washington Square Dances”
Bottom Photo by Robert Flynt: Pavel Zuštiak, Lindsey Dietz Marchant in “Amidst”