New York Live Arts
June 25, 2015
by Tom Phillips
copyright 2015 by Tom Phillips
Modern Dance and Modern Art grew up together, and each divided into a myriad of separate streams. Choreo- grapher Zvi Gotheiner now takes three radically different artists of the 20th century, and tries to project the feeling of their works in dance; he scores on at least two out of three.
The Company in "Rothko". Photo by Nina Wurzel.
Far more than Edvard Munch, who painted the most famous “scream” of the 20th century, Francis Bacon explored the horror behind that facial expression. Gotheiner sets Bacon in motion with a quartet of young men in stylized suits and ties. They could be junior partners at a law firm, each intent on winning the spoils of professional combat while protecting himself from the murderous intentions of his friends. They circle each other warily, then stand in a row, twitching and leering with grotesque body movements and distorted facial expressions, silent screams. One by one they unzip their flies, then zip them up again – but then the boldest goes all the way, unzips and pulls off his pants, then writhes on the floor in an agony of ambivalence. In the end he joins in a wrestling match with his toughest rival, a series of rounds that end in near fatal choke holds – until the rival finally delivers the coup de grace, slipping his hands under his opponent’s shirt and ripping it open. The hero clutches at his own naked breast, then jerks to the floor in a fatal paroxysm – killed by exposure.
“Bacon” is the centerpiece of the triptych. Scott Killian's music for “Bacon” could be the sound track for a zombie movie – the antithesis of the bright, clear, classical score for “Escher,” which opens the program. In geometric black and white costumes, eight dancers swarm and swirl, form groups and groupoids, then scatter into pieces. It’s not a literal rendition, but rather a moving take-off from Escher’s mathematical and architectural paradoxes. It works because the dancers, while moving through their geometric patterns, remain fully human, relating to each other not just as numbers, but as people. It ends with a kiss.
Mark Rothko is a fitting choice to end this exhibition. His luminous rectangles combine minimalism with spirituality – a vision of the human soul trying to find its way in infinity and eternity. Zvi gets it in several sections, introspective solos for his women, dancing in a dark rectangle, a lighting effect in the center of the space. Alison Clancy's solo was the most revealing. Long-limbed, she's not afraid to linger over a gesture until it becomes an expression. Covering her eyes, angling her feet, she seemed to be meditating, searching for herself in the void.
The ending had the feel of Rothko’s mysticism – four dancers at each corner of the dark rectangle, standing still, staring into the center. But on the whole I thought the piece was too busy -- too much movement, too many dancers swirling in and out, too much like the Escher section. Rothko is Rothko, a whole different world.
The dancing was superb throughout. ZviDance has grown into a strong, expressive ensemble, disciplined as a group, still unique as individuals. Besides Zvi's long-time steely stalwarts, Kuan Hui Chew and Ying-Ying Shiau, Alison Clancy stood out, and David Norsworthy jumped out -- seizing our attention with his death throes in "Bacon," and as a disruptive free radical in "Escher."
It's not perfect, but "Escher/Bacon/Rothko" is gripping throughout, an intense work by an artist who goes for broke, and a company that goes with him, all the way.
Copyright 2015 by Tom Phillips
Photos, both by Nina Wurzel.
The Company in "Rothko".
David Norsworthy in "Bacon"