Last night we went to the opening of Noemie Lafrance’s newest public work, Agora, at the historic McCarren Park Pool.

Culturebot has vague memories of someone once saying that “time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.” If that’s the case, then watching Agora is like stepping outside of time and being able to watch everything happening all at once; its like being able to witness the chaos and dissonance and see order within it. Watching this extraordinary piece is like looking at computer-generated fractals – one marvels at the complexity and disorder, all the time realizing that everything is in fact choreographed to the smallest detail. The effect is hypnotizing and transportive.

Back when Culturebot used to live in Williamsburg we would wander through McCarren park and wonder about this huge, abandoned edifice. From a distance it looked like a stadium in Central America that had once been the site of a dictator’s transgressions and was now willfully ignored by the citizens out of shame and regret. So who knew that the McCarren Park Pool was built by Robert Moses under the WPA in 1936 and closed in 1983? To give you a sense of how vast it is, it was designed to fit 6800 people swimming together!

The site is spectacular and Lafrance has done a remarkable job, not only as a choreographer, but as an urban visionary who uses art to spur the imagination of government and private industry. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz was there and, in his inimitable jokey style, made a speech and cut the ribbon to inaugurate the pool’s revival as a cultural center. Future plans include a public concert series produced by Ron Delsener.

But it was Lafrance’s ambitious choreography and staging that was truly remarkable. She takes the idea of the “agora” (greek word for marketplace) as an open place of gathering in the center of town where people voice and exchange ideas, mingle and mix, and brings it to life in an array of stunning complexity.

All kinds of dance and all kinds of people converge in the Pool. A couple of kids gather at one end and smash bottles, dancers with skateboards strapped to their backs do tricks and elaborate partner work, a roving band of dancers follows a boombox in a grocery cart doing vaguely hip-hop inspired choreography. A girl takes a shower, people jump in and out of a wading pool, a lone dancer pushes a recliner and television set (a mobile living room, really) across the entire length of the pool. Girls hula-hoop. A cowgirl has a shoot-out with a man that pops out of the bottom of the pool. A mirror ball descends from nowhere to create a disco-flavored fantasia in the twilight zone. And that’s maybe 1/4 of all the various movements and dances that unfold throughout this 70-minute spectacular.

Lafrance must have employed nearly every dancer in the city as well as members of Young Dance Collective, Streb, Malcolm the Spinning Ball of Light (from GrooveHoops), Miss Saturn, Leigh Garrett and more special guests. They all acquit themselves marvelously. At one point during the show Culturebot’s companion turned to him and said, “I can’t remember the last time I saw so many really great dancers in one place! Like, real dancers.”

Culturebot isn’t about reviews, as I’ve stated endlessly. And since Culturebot is not a rigorous, professional journalist he will not go on and on at length about the specifics of the work. We will just leave it at this: go see Agora. It is a thrilling epic and a triumphant accommplishment as well as a wonderful evening of great dance.

3 thoughts on “Agoraphilia”

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