David Wampach at CPR and Amanda Loulaki at PS 122
Trying to explain French choreographer David Wampach‘s Bascule, which played last weekend at CPR, the best description I could come up with was that it was sort of like the “Surely/Shirley” joke from Airplane. The first time Leslie Nielson belts it out, it’s funny. Then it gets not so funny. Then by the end the sheer audacity of repeating it ad infinitum makes it funny again.
Actually, that’s a terrible description of the piece itself, which is actually mesmerizingly good, but it’s the best description of the experience of watching it I can think of. For around an hour, Wampach walks you painstakingly through a structural exploration of basic movement, isolating, combining, and then re-combining small mechanincal actions. The setting is quite simple: a white floor and a one white wall stage right.
The piece starts with dancer Liz Santoro, “dressed” in a painted-on red shirt and black bottom, entering and standing before the audience. As the soundtrack starts, a simple 1-2 synthesized beat, she at first mouths each beat. Then she switches to a head turn with each. And then she begins combining them.
It’s a delightfully musical piece for something so pared down. The soundtrack doesn’t elaborate too much from the initial beat except to add an element here or there, or to switch to a melodic segment and then back to percussive. The other two dancers (Michelle Boule and Bryan Campbell, also in painted-on costumes) enter, and the three proceed through Wampach’s exacting exploration of the body. He isolated movements in the head, arms, legs, combines them together into brief minimalist phrases, then pulls back and starts on a different part. The three move in and out of synchronization as Wampach uses the subtle timing differences, or perspective shifts achieved through the lighting, to structure the work.
It’s simple and profound and even a little brilliant in its own way, and though the experience tends to drag by the middle, by the end you come back around, and I honestly felt like I could have kept watching for…well, I have no idea how long. Earth-shattering, no; but as dance is always on some fundamental level an exploration of the body, Wampach deserves credit for managing a minimalistic dance work deconstructing the smallest, most basic movements, that’s nevertheless compelling and even, at times, genuinely funny.
As for Amanda Loulaki/Short Mean Lady‘s I Am Saying Good Night at PS 122, I can’t say as much good, but generally speaking I’ll hold my tongue, as Loulaki was side-swiped with an injured dancer, Rebecca Brooks, who had to drop out at the last minute. What I can say is that I hope Brooks had a very large role which simply couldn’t be done without, because otherwise, I find it hard to imagine anything doing much to alleviate this “frustratingly opaque world,” as Gia Kourlas put it in the Times. The piece opens with projected text scrolling Star Wars-like across the floor, followed by Loulaki and her collaborators Carolyn Hall, Pedro Osorio, and Rebecca Serrell Cyr entering from various places at various points. There’s a lot of text, both read and played from recording. Osorio at one point pulls off his pants and is whipped about the buttocks. At another point, a skeleton Halloween decoration is brought out and is used several times throughout. The music, in a score by Georgios Kantos, with music by Giannis Aggelakas and Nikos Veliotis, was quite good.
The movement is naturalistic and usually purely expressive; academic choreography this ain’t. Still, of all the dancers, it was really only Carolyn Hallwho struck me as having enough presence and control to command attention. Even dragging herself across the floor, she stood out. It was unfortunate she wasn’t made more use of. Still, I have to admit that Loulaki’s duet with Serrell Cyr, with the two of them half-naked, lying on one another on the floor, was actually fairly compelling, if a bit too slow, or too long, or both.