Laura Peterson Choreography
HERE Arts Center, New York
November 9, 2011
by Tom Phillips
Copyright 2011 by Tom Phillips
Laura Peterson is as much an installation artist as a dancer/choreographer, and “Wooden’ is her biggest project to date – a dance set in a large indoor space, half of it covered by a live lawn and the other half a hard floor with limbs of dried-out driftwood suspended from the ceiling. The dance takes place in two parts, with the dancers changing over from the lawn to the floor, and the audience going the other way.
It’s her biggest project, but in another way her smallest. Petersen’s interest is not so much in human interaction but in the play of forces that underlie it. She seems to find her subjects through a microscope, one that has grown steadily more powerful over the years. In her first major production “Security” her company became bug-like creatures who crawled around after each other in instinctive fits and starts. In “I Love Dan Flavin” her dancers moved stiffly, falling and rising like the ones and zeros of computer code. Now in “Wooden” she and her three fellow dancers move like sub-atomic particles, circling and bumping, clumping and separating, rolling and tumbling. She plays with all the number combinations possible in a group of four – sometimes separating out one dancer for what looks like an improvised solo piece – a structure that reminds us of the role of chance at every level of existence. It also reminds us of how much we have in common with sub-atomic particles, and celestial bodies that move according to laws, but have their own quirks and quarks, and odd ways of dancing around each other.
Of the two parts, the first part on the lawn is more pleasing to watch. The soft, living surface allows for playful falls and rolls that would be painful or impossible on a hard floor. At the same time, the increased friction reduces the vocabulary of movement, and makes every move more tiring, so that after twenty minutes or so we feel and hear the dancers slowing down, stained by grass and dirt, their fatigue turning to exhaustion. This is the organic chemistry of movement, accompanied by music that moves from a low buzz to soaring strings, from the bees to the birds. Peterson is the least sentimental of artists, but there is an almost-tender moment at the end when two pairs of dancers briefly link hands and revolve slowly around each other before letting go.
Part two is inorganic chemistry, set in a dry, desiccated place. The energy here is electric, mechanistic – the music crackling and popping, the dancers twitching and vibrating and turning in repetitive patterns. For me the pleasure in this section was watching Kate Martel, a dancer so alive and buoyant that even when she’s playing a quark, she’s unable to shed her charm.
The environment, built by Jon Pope, is finely wrought, from the pungent sod to the plain wooden benches that serve as seats for the movable audience. It's an artificial setting that invokes and involves the natural world. And according to the artists, it's all going to be repurposed, recycled or composted.
As for Laura Peterson, she's still young, and constantly cycling sophisticated ideas into multi-faceted works of art. Watch for more.
Copyright 2011 by Tom Phillips
Photograph of (l-r) Laura Peterson, Kate Martel, Edward Rice
by Steven Schreiber