g-h-o-s-t-c-r-o-w-n (working title): a collection of movements, moments, and discussions on form
The first moment of the piece is Rebecca Warner in flux. She performs an arresting series of pivots about her vertical axis, bent leg extended behind her. Caught in a chaotic but somehow geometrically balanced arabesque, she spins like a moon dangerously close to shooting out of orbit.
Later in this first section (or perhaps during what Spradlin considers section two of nine,) Warner enters into a duet with Natalie Green. Both are reminiscent of two Dorothys caught in a time-traveling tornado on their way to Oz—though Green occasionally smiles at us as Warner falls.
The denizens of this dance are much edgier than Dorothy, with her blue and white plaid dress: the costume Walter Dundervill created for this section is a largely see-through black shift.
The performers do not seem to be of the same multiverse, as if they each have their own relationship to the group, the work, and to the audience watching them. This is curious, given that Spradlin has them primarily wearing the same outfits and performing the same movements in unison. During a later section of the dance, Spradlin clearly makes space for the performers to populate her repetitive movement with their own choices—Athena Malloy touches her face, devynn emory’s facial expression is notably fiercer than the rest—but in other sections, including the final few minutes when the performers sequence rhythmically through contracted and kneeling shapes on the floor, it is less clear whether the difference in presence is intentional.
What would the dance have felt like if Spradlin presented it in the round, as she did with beginning of something at New York Live Arts in 2012? What led her to give us all, more or less, the same perspective?
There is a motif of betrayed-yet-striving-for-stoicism in the piece. The performers wear a look of shock that morphs into a challenging, dare-you-to-mess-with-me gaze. What have we, the audience, done? Are we inflicting hardship or bearing witness to it? Is one more forgivable than the other? Betrayal—specifically, the moment when one receives news of betrayal and grapples with disbelief—also defines the aesthetic of a nine-minute film projected on the back of the stage. Similar to the characters in the film, Green occasionally opens her mouth as if to speak, but is at a loss for what to say. (This, until the performers erupt with a single word to get our attention. See PERFORMATIVE UTTERANCE.)
Full-evening dance performances often entail many extra-choreographic elements that are only abstractly related to dance proper—black and white Chinese film, massive sculpture installation, live music, wedding ring projections, stillness.
What does “dance proper” even mean?
Asli Bulbul’s role in the performance could be whatever any given audience member is needing it to be at the moment of her entrance, which happens almost at the end of the dance. In some ways Bulbul has the same effect on the composition of the piece as Glen Fogel’s hanging sculpture: both are the elephants in the room. Or, if not an unacknowledged Other, Bulbul functions as an accent that anchors and even contains the the performance space like a period.
Reminiscent of the bars of light that scan the front of the space as the performers fall into a police line-up formation, or the dashes in Spradlin’s title, Bulbul makes physical a space we would have otherwise had to imagine, or would have neglected entirely.
Could the elephant in the room be like a ghost’s foil character? If one is the character (or phenomenon or space) everyone consciously chooses not to acknowledge, the other is the entity that affects the space imperceptibly. Perhaps Spradlin showed us one so that we could infer the presence of the other.
David Foster Wallace stated that an entity concerned with form is “deductive/formal/pure form/one-hundred percent abstract.” To say g-h-o-s-t-c-r-o-w-n is one-hundred percent abstract is to miss many humanizing elements of the work. Still, as far as “pure form” is concerned, this piece fits the bill.
The movement vocabulary is sparse. During one rigorous section the dancers perform one single movement (with subtle permutations) for eighteen minutes. The performers cross through one another while maintaining two parallel lines. With each cross they kick one leg in front of them. As they stomp down, they pivot to face the opposite direction and kick again.
If we notice ourselves feeling the monotony and difficulty of powering through while watching this kick/weave section, one might easily make the connection and wonder: what must these performers be feeling? What do they do, feel, think, want, remember, or forget that allows them to renew their commitment each time they turn around to kick their legs into the air—and are they conscious of whatever it is? This is the same question I wonder when I do or witness someone who does a job that requires little variation in the distinct actions they perform to complete a larger task. It must be a mental endurance similar to that of a figure model who sits for three hours at a time, a child waiting the last five minutes for the school bell to ring, or my uncle’s when he drives eight-hours to work four times a week. What do we think about when we can be no where but where we are, doing no action other than what we do? The question leads to another: what do we choose to consider, on stage or otherwise? What does someone visualize, dream of, or imagine when the mind has freedom to choose?
David Foster Wallace also said that “the whole trick” to embracing this freedom is “keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”
It seems likely that the original sound score the musicians play throughout the performance assists the performers’ endurance: the musicians are a constant, collective witness, responsive as much as they are receptive to the performers’ ever-shifting reality.
“By the laws of change, whatever has reached its extreme must turn back.” – The I-Ching
During the kick/weave section all of the performers (with the exception of Bulbul) wear lavender, asymmetrical tunics made of a silky, shiny fabric. The costume is not referential to any aesthetic other than its own: a costume worn by dancers on a stage.
A tableau of slow-moving, naked freeze-action comprises the final, anticlimactic section of the dance. The movement neither builds nor changes perceptibly. There is one instant when Malloy and Saúl Ulerio’s proximity to each other in space creates a spike in an otherwise flat line of activity. As soon as I think I see this relationship, and start working to build a theory about it, the moment is gone.
In The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner describes a character’s movement as “slow, wild elegance.”
“Repetition is a device to emphasize or erode something by showing it more than once.” —Jonathan Burroughs, A Choreographer’s Handbook