Platform 2015: Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets
New York, NY
February 21, 2015
by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2015 by Leigh Witchel
It’s hell being a yenta. For Danspace’s Platform 2015, Claudia La Rocco commemo- rated the golden anniversary of Edwin Denby’s “Dancers, Buildings, and People in the Streets” by making matches in his honor, pairing up dancers from what she quotes as the “three nodal points of Balanchine, Cunningham and the Judson Dance Theater.”
A lot of provocative potential there. Yet La Rocco wasn’t pushy; she put the couples together, stood back and watched, along with us, what happened. One pair ended up in love at first text message. Another bridegroom was deserted at the altar.
Kaitlyn Gilliland and Will Rawls in “#loveyoumeanit” Photo © by Ian Douglas
Kaitlyn Gilliland is the scion of a dancing family; her grandmother, Loyce Houlton, founded Minnesota Dance Theatre. Prince was one of Houlton’s students and performed at a fundraiser for the company; one of the few pieces of music used at the performance was a version of “Purple Rain.”
Houlton’s granddaughter grew into a golden girl at New York City Ballet: a tall, lush dancer who grabbed your eye. But injuries punctuated Gilliland’s tenure and she left, frustrated. Yet it was a rebirth instead of a death. Not only did she go to college, but healed her body and became one of the city’s busiest freelance dancers.
And so Rawls and Gilliand got hooked up by La Rocco but their aesthetic courtship - carried out over emails, skype and more than anything, hashtag-studded texts - turned out to be a match made in Emoji heaven. The path of that relationship got fashioned into “#loveyoumeanit.”
The work was in two parts with surprisingly little dance in their story. Much of the time they sat at a table, reading from scripts and talking about the process that led them to be sitting at a table, reading from scripts. The first half developed their chemistry. They’re an unlikely romantic pair (she’s younger and straight, he’s the gay older man) but you grew to enjoy thinking of them as a couple. Her persona as she flirted with Rawls was mischievous – she asked him about sexting – and cuddly, but with a sharp incisive glance she let you know that even when retracted, she had claws.
The second half was weaker. Gilliland came back wearing pointe shoes and Rawls talked her through movement phrases in a rehearsal-like manner. Except for one done with a gently collapsing breastbone, they were straight ballet. Rawls moved less; part one closed with Gilliland saying words (“fugitivity”) that he translated to movement. Gilliland teased him, “You were crawling around an awful lot yesterday. Is that just . . . how you dance?” Rawls got her back in the second part. “Wasn’t that attitude?” he asked about a phrase’s steps. Gilliland shot him a shaded but piercing look – a match for Rawls’ nonchalant cool.
They two met on equal ground as gifted performers, but in process, Gilliland met Rawls more than halfway. Rawls was in his comfort zone: a downtown physical theater piece talking about making a downtown physical theater piece. Gilliland went far from her norm in a leap of faith – and it paid off.
In between the two sections of Rawls and Gilliland’s courtship, poor Silas Riener performed a solo with the ghost of Adrian Danchig-Waring. Why the New York City Ballet principal only appeared on video a duet was never fully explained, but Gilliland and Rawls hinted in their section at scheduling issues.
Whatever happened, it left Riener dancing solo. He appeared with his hair braided and shucked his warmups for patchwork leotard cut off below the shoulders like a strapless gown. The solo moved from his Cunningham roots with his body isolated in nodes into frenzied bouncing that looked like a ballerina taking a shower. Projected behind Riener was a video of Danchig-Waring teaching him the opening and male duet from “Agon.”
For all the bewitching qualities of Riener’s dancing, the abortive matchup was a disappointment. La Rocco stated her curatorial instinct was to stay out of the way, but part of curation is production and facilitation. Without knowing what actually happened, if Danchig-Waring’s absence could have been prevented or an alternative found, it should have.
Sharper curation would have benefited Gilliland and Rawls as well. For all the chemistry between them, to leave their relationship to one of words was a huge missed opportunity. They could have pushed each other much further physically; what would have happened had they slammed their techniques against one another? Their bodies seemed as well-matched as their minds, so why not dance together? If they took yet another step and explored partnering, it would have been worth 10,000 words.
For Gilliland, there was already a payoff: she got to explore a world far from ballet without having to reject it. If only to watch her happy exorcism, the evening was a success. Even if there could have been more, there still was enough to be beguiled. Rawls and Gilliland make beautiful music together; let’s hope they dig deeper. #charisma
copyright © 2015 by Leigh Witchel
All photos © by Ian Douglas
Middle photo: Silas Riener
Bottom photo: Kaitlyn Gilliland in "#loveyoumeanit"