New York, NY
April 23, 2015
by Martha Sherman
copyright © 2015 by Martha Sherman
White is a blank canvas suggestive of many metaphors. Michelle Boulé and her dancing partners used sweeping limbs, subtle gestures, and moments of irony in “White” to paint an echoing, resonant work. Boulé, who has danced for decades with Miguel Gutierrez, holds nothing back in her movement, and in what she described as her “deep investigation of physicality,” she has hewn to simplicity – a few dancers on an open stage – to offer rich findings.
Lindsay Clark and Michelle Boulé in "White." Photo © Ian Douglas.
Unexpectedly at the start, the room collapsed into black. When the lights came up, Boulé opened the performance by introducing herself and her dancers and offering the pre-show warnings about fire exits and cellphones; with a light French accent and a wild mane of hair, her familiar remarks were especially droll. As she spoke, Lauren Bakst repeated the words into a microphone, pausing for a fraction of a second, so the language echoed in St. Marks’ Church. As Lindsay Clark joined Boulé in an opening duet, they echoed each other as well, sound and movement playing in the same double sphere.
Boulé and Clark swept their arms like wings (angelic, in white,) and shifted their weight in a rolling motion. The score, by Chris Seeds and partners, shifted from scene to scene, but started with an unrestrained hiss, a vat of white noise, and the dancers flowed in parallel, shifting between balance and motion, spooling their arms overhead as they stood lightly on one leg and raised the other, deliberately.
Boulé is a mesmerizing mover herself, smooth and powerful, but her choreography generously harvested her dancers’ unique qualities as well. Although much of the movement was driven by their graceful limbs, they also used finger gestures, rolling heads and necks, and staring eyes to highlight movement. Sometimes they twitched neurotically, then shifted smoothly back to calm.
Reid Barthelme’s costumes added a combination of play and sexiness. Each dancer had her own ensemble of layers -- revealing, floating, textured combinations. Boulé wore lacy shorts and an elegant sleeveless shell, topped with a diaphanous, sheer apron that left the back of her legs bare, as she floated and punched the air. Their hair was part of each costume, especially Boulé’s wild nest of texture, sticking out in all directions and sweeping along when she lifted her arm and tilted herself into a deep backward curve. All of the costumes, of course, were white.
Each dancer had her moment in solo as well as duet and trio. Clark, tall and stately, stood and waved one arm toward an unseen partner; Bakst partnered with her microphone and cord, spooling and unspooling it along the floor, and leaning in as if to speak – but staying silent. Boulé’s solo was the most dramatic. Her partners left her on a darkened stage, and she moved in wide steps, her head flailing backward and forward, then flat on her stomach, raised on her forearms, majestic as a Sphinx. She was accompanied by silence that broke into watery musical tones, and her audible panting augmented the score.
The audience sat at the north end of the church, leaving the long walls and bleacher step seating open for the dancers to use as they stepped in and out of the scenes, and watched each other perform. When all three were on stage together, their movements often seemed disconnected, but when they danced together, it was in waves of motion – flowing runs in a long diagonal back and forth on the stage, prancing and scooping the air. They each glided backward into a personal circle within a larger triangle on the stage; even when they weren’t in synch, they were together, pointing to the sky and each other in this layered geometry.
The bells of St. Marks stop in the evenings, so they don’t disrupt Danspace performances, but as the trio floated in interlocking circles that filled the floor, deep tolling church bells (here, a part of Seeds’ shifting score) signaled the performance’s end, so apt for its setting. Into the microphone, Bakst thanked us, as Boulé and Clark danced in a round pool of light, using their fingers to draw shadow patterns. Once more, the line between the white and the dark was etched in a sharp blackout.
Lindsay Clark, Michelle Boulé, and Lauren Bakst in "White." Photo © Ian Douglas.
copyright © 2015 by Martha Sherman