Culturebot admits that he has not always been a dance aficionado. In fact, until recently whenever I heard the word “dance” I ran screaming in the other direction. But the responsibilities of being a cultural man-about-downtown have brought me into proximity with quite a bit of dance, and as a result I’ve started to actually enjoy it.
Watching dance is a lot like learning a new language. At first it seems alien, frustrating and meaningless. Eventually though, as it becomes more familiar, it opens up to you, and the subtleties and distinctions become more apparent. The flourishes and rhetoric, the particular physical vocabularies of choreographers and dancers start to cohere. All of a sudden, watching dance is (or at least, can be, sometimes) fun.
Last night, for example, I got to see four great new pieces as part of the Dance In Progress Series at The Kitchen. Curated and facilitated by the Queen of Downtown Dance, Sarah Michelson, the evening was a dynamic and diverse display of choreographic talent.
Starting the evening was a piece entitled depict him on his horse by everyone’s favorite Wau Wau Sister Adrienne Truscott in collaboration with David Neumann, Natalie Agee and Carmine Covelli. depict him on his horse started in the dark with Ms. Truscott taking center stage, pulling up her shirt and pulling down her pants and letting her body serve as a projection screen for a film of Mr. Neumann speaking in a french accent. He wore a penciled-in mustache and in the first sly joke of the evening, his goatee was played by the part of Ms. Truscott’s mons pubis. The piece went on in this humorous vein from there. It’s hard to describe exactly. There was a refrigerator box on the ground that was then suspended from the ceiling, revealing Mr. Neumann beneath it, which was promptly dropped back to the floor. There was a tunnel made of kraft paper on stage left through which Ms. Agee crawled.
I have seen some of Truscott’s work before and I have seen Neumann’s Sentence which played last year at P.S. 122 (and in which Ms. Truscott figured prominently) and I find this style of dance very engaging. The style of the dancers is very simple. They seem bemused by their circumstance, will occasionally speak incongruous and self-referential lines. They will perform what appears to be traditional choreography except “in quotes”. How does one describe a sight gag? And much of the work is humorous – it is expressed in the interaction of the dancers, the imaginary conceits of post-modern space and time, set and setting. All I can say is that as a non-dancer, it is really enjoyable to watch. It feels accessible but at the same time obscure. It never feels like Capitol D Dance. Which is a good thing.
The next piece on the bill was Forest Near Chelsea by Maria Hassabi in collaboration with Hristoula Haraka. This was a complete change of pace from the previous piece. The dancers entered brusquely, like aggressive models down a runway. They were clothed in what appeared to be middle-eastern inspired spangled pants with matching blouses. I’m not sure how to describe the piece. It seemed to be commenting on fashion and the nature of presentation, the styles of movement associated with the fashion industry. At the same time there was an almost ritual quality to the movement. The women were very strong, would move independently and then, for a while, in concert.
Occasionally they would use the exposed concrete walls of the playing space to bounce off of, to lean against, to slam their hands into. They would, sporadically, vocalize – like a grunt or a squeal. Face the audience, look intently at us, then move away. At one point they stood downstage center as a glitter ball cast a million shards of light over them and the audience. When the light faded, the sound faded as well and they were flattened against the back wall, performing synchronized movement sequences, slapping the concrete, looking at the audience.
As I’ve said previously, I have only a few rules about rating dance. One is: have I seen it before? and Two is: How often did I space out? And I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before and I didn’t space out. So that’s good in my book.
After intermission I took my seat for a piece called Calvin Klein by Greg Zuccolo with Hilary Clark. Greg Zuccolo did a great job in Sarah Michelson’s Shadowmann last year, so I was curious to see what he would come up with on his own. The show started with him and Ms. Clark wearing purple, green & grey outfits that seemed somewhat elven. Or Hansel & Gretel-inspired. They stared at each other as a song played. And they stared. And they stared. The song played. Greg quickly claps his hands. They stare at each other. The song plays. And plays. And ends. Then Hilary walks past Greg and offstage, around the back of the audience and back onstage from the other side. She walks past him, which sets him in motion, doing that tippy-toes ballet thing (I know there’s a french word for it, but I can’t think of it) in an arc upstage as she moves in an opposite arc downstage. Once she’s arrived downstage she goes into a bunch of moves that seem like “dance” moves, and then collapses. I don’t remember how, but they both end up in their original positions and they start all over again. The song plays, they stare at each other, Greg claps, they stare, the song plays, plays, ends, Hilary leaves, re-enters, etc. This time there is a different variation on the tippy-toes part. And then, believe it or not, they end up in their original positions and do it again! Which sounds torturous, but was actually really funny. As a matter of fact, there were a few times in the piece where both of them had trouble keeping a straight face. Eventually, they wind up upstage on either side of a puppet booth, they grab the curtain covering the puppet stage and pull it down, revealing choreographer Tere O’Connor! Pretty funny. Maybe they were supposed to be the puppets? I don’t know. It was a fun piece. Though I’ve gotta say that the big “reveal” at the end kind of reminded me of the end of Michelson’s Shadowmann, part one where the dancers have started to leave the stage and Henry Baumgartner (a well-regarded, nay, legendary figure on the dance scene) stood up on the balcony and said in a god-like voice, “I Am Henry Baumgartner!”. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with borrowing stuff from time to time. As a matter of fact in the program notes Zuccolo quite openly notes “Moves stolen directly form Lucy Guerin, Cotton commercial, Vicky Shick, Kumudini Lahkia, George Balanchine”. Now see – this is where the experience would be very different for a true dance fan. They would see all those references and go, “ah!”. But that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable if you don’t know the references. It’s just a different experience.
Speaking of experiences, the final piece in the evening was Chris Yon’s Un Elephant Terrible. Another fun, playful piece, the dancers (Eleanor Bauer, Adam Carpenter, Taryn Griggs, Zach Steel and Chris Yon) entered in pajamas and proceeded to do some really wonderful ensemble work. Once again, the movement seemed to start from a common place and extrapolate from there. The sound design had interwoven bits of commentary and interior monologue from and about the dancers. The sound design was by Karinne Keithley who is also a dancer. Yon and Keithley founded UR dance out in Brooklyn and most of these dancers have worked together before in some configuration or another. I saw Ms. Keithley’s tenderenda last spring in which Mr. Yon also danced.
Which is a long way of saying very little – except that they seem to be devising a certain aesthetic that is similar to Neumann and Truscott’s, but more whimsical with perhaps a bit more narrative and ensemble work. I haven’t seen enough of the work to speak authoritatively. The point being I enjoyed Un Elephant Terrible – it was dreamlike and fun. I look forward to seeing the rest of it when it plays LaMama this spring.