Ivy Baldwin’s “Here Rests Peggy,” Closing This Weekend at the Chocolate Factory

This is closing weekend of Ivy Baldwin‘s Here Rests Peggy at the Chocolate Factory (tickets $15), so take the opportunity tonight or tomorrow to go see it. Culturebot had an interview with Baldwin and Chocolate Factory artistic director Brian Rogers last week, but I caught the show too and wanted to add my two cents, because there’s a lot good to be said about Baldwin’s work.

The Peggy of the title (or so I understand) refers to none other than Peggy Guggenheim, the wealthy heiress and art patron who spent years cavorting around Europe and America with a string of writers and painters, from Samuel Beckett to Jackson Pollock. What Baldwin offers up in response to Guggenheim’s larger-than-life legacy is a dynamic piece of choreography for four dancers that skips merrily from a vaguely jazz influenced homage to a youth of wealth and privelege to a shockingly personal expressionist piece to finally a triumph of visceral abstraction, an hour-long performance that more or less rivets its audiences and carries them through the hairpin turns Baldwin lays out connecting a complex and disparate set of references and sources.

From the show’s opening, with its elegant full bodied movement (accentuated by Walter Dunderville’s lovely cocktail dress costumes), the piece moves away from formalism to a more evocative vocabulary. Baldwin (who performs in the piece along with dancers Katie Workum, Eleanor Smith and Lawrence Casella) repeats a phrase that leaves her on the ground, Casella kneeling with one knee on her chest, crushing the air out of her until she begs him, “Get off!”

I don’t want to be too prescriptive, but the piece struck me as following a biographical trajectory on Guggenheim’s life, influenced by the art she was associated with. The Expressionism of this sequence (which directly links Guggenheim’s personal life to the sturm and drang of the artistic milieu of the interwar period) gives you way to a violent phase emphasizing the complete loss of form, a sort of stand in for the chaos of the Second World War, and then moving on to the triumph of American Abstract Expression in the post-war period, as the dancers cycle through a series of ecstatic movements which have them throwing themselves up against the back wall–painted Abstract Expressionist-style by Anna Schuleit–like Jackson Pollock enthusiastically hurling paint at a canvas. The slow evisceration of the company as the dancers collapse into a heap on the floor evokes the passage of time and the loss of the people with whom Guggenheim was so closely associated (Pollock among them).

Or more likely this all a desperate attempt to fix a narrative on a work that doesn’t need one. Even if you go in not knowing the putative subject (I certainly didn’t; I read it late in Deborah Jowitt’s review), Baldwin’s rich, senstiive, and thoughtful choreography and mise-en-scene will keep you more than interested and–probably better–eagerly grasping at tendrils of recognition that strafe off her lovely piece, leaving you in a rapt state of fascination and curiosity for the duration of the show.

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