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Dance Theater Workshop, NYC • February 3–6, 2010 • Reviewed by Siobhan Burke
What’s a choreographer to do with all the words in her head, when her first language is movement? At the beginning of The Materiality of Impermanence, Kimberly Bartosik tells us that she doesn’t know. “I wish I could just write a song,” she says, backing cautiously down an aisle of stairs through the audience. Lighting/set designer Roderick Murray and composer Luke Fasano, both members of her ensemble daela, follow attentively, holding up a microphone and pages of text that Bartosik peels away one by one. “I have lines and lines and words and verses and lines and lines,” she continues. “I have had them for a very long time, but I don’t know what to do with them.”
Whatever uncertainty Bartosik feels, it finds intriguing expression in Materiality, her newest work and her first using spoken text (her own, with excerpts from French author Alain Robbe-Grillet). When an artist claims to be exploring a “liminal space,” as she does in the program notes, the results can be either muddled or poetic in their ambiguity. The latter happens here.
Picture the floor plan of a house—a maze of right angles—traced onto DTW’s cavernous stage, then outlined in LED lights, and you have Murray and Bartosik’s eerie, luminescent set, sections of which light up and fade away at random. Navigating its chambers, the wiry Bartosik and her partner Marc Mann could be inhabiting rooms of a home or avenues of the mind, where they are themselves memories—chasing, repelling, getting enmeshed in one another, or settling into charged stillness.
In this quietly urgent space, actions are both as fickle and as pressing as the fractured thoughts that Bartosik and Mann utter—into a dangling upside-down microphone, into another mic cast on the ground, into the fabric of each other’s sweatshirts. They murmur streams of hurried, unintelligible verse, and elsewhere, cryptic fragments like, “They were in my mouth.” Their tense, craning quality of movement suggests an effort to transform motion, with its notorious impermanence, into something material.
Bartosik danced with Merce Cunningham for a decade, and her vocabulary resembles a scuffed-up version of his orderly dialect—lunges teetering on the balls of feet, torsos twisting and bending mathematically but with a flippant edge. Arms swipe like weed-whackers, fingers splay, footfalls land with a thud. There is much partial undressing and dressing, folding and unfolding of clothes, adjusting of pant legs and shirt sleeves, like a refusal to commit to one state of being. The sound score by Fasano comes and goes, melodious crossings of nature and industry.
About 45 minutes in, this 55-minute dance takes an abrupt turn. It seems to have ended—props have been cleared—when a glamorous Joanna Kotze descends through the house. With her glittery jumpsuit, choppy black hair, and ruby-red pout—not to mention crescent-moon feet and liquid extensions—she is fascinating. Her strutting echoes what we’ve seen, but it’s angrier, more virtuosic, exuding ego. Fasano stands by, singing a melancholy tune. The words of his verses and lines are hard to decipher, but it’s a beautiful song.
Théâtre de la Ville
January 27–30, 2010
Reviewed by Wendy Perron
A mysterious, cataclysmic piece, Tempest: Without a Body descended on the audience like an apocalypse. Starting in dimness with noise so loud that you felt your seat vibrate (sound composition by Russel Walder, Marc Chesterman, and Ponifasio), Tempest features a visual object that is as large and ominous as the music: a huge, thick, textured wall that hangs or floats. The dimness and loudness take a long time to lift while a lone man inches forward, his gestures barely visible.
But the six or seven men of Ponifasio’s New Zealand–based group MAU are benevolent, moving their arms steadily like some semaphoric code in crisp unison. One gesture may be a salute or a slap while another looks like pulling a thread from one’s heart. They scurry across space with tiny quick steps like a Georgian women’s folk dance. All in black, they could be messengers of either good or bad luck. Or they could be a Greek chorus, warning of impending doom.
The single woman, Ade Suharto, is a strange, disheveled angel who screams in long exhalations. Perhaps this angel is a murderess because when she raises her right hand, we see the palm is blood red. A corresponding red stain inexplicably appears on the huge wall; it broadens in seething splotches.
Upstage on a table, a man painted silver wriggles like a fish and pulls himself down into a hole—but gets stuck midway. Later, Tame Iti, an elder with a tattooed face, comes forward and addresses us in a foreign tongue, mounting his case forcefully, even spitting—an angry Buddha. This must be part of a culturally specific ritual, one thinks. (Ponifasio is from Samoa, but his dancers are from several Pacific islands, including Java, Tonga, and Samoa.)
The final episode is the most frightening. One man, alone onstage, lifts what looks like a plate of glass covered with dust. He throws it to the floor, shattering it, sending white powder everywhere. The music amplifies the shattering sound to an almost unbearable degree. The other dancers rush in one at a time, each one hurling an object to the floor, each object breaking into many dusty pieces. It seems to happen a thousand times, and I can’t help but think of the multiple earthquakes that have demolished Haiti.
PLATFORMS 2010: “i get lost”
St. Mark’s Church, NYC
January 21–23, 2010
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Launching its new PLATFORMS 2010 series, Danspace Project proposes to enrich our notions of what contemporary dance can contain and whose realities might be embraced by this work. To these ends, Danspace has engaged provocative artists to curate its first two “platforms”—Ralph Lemon (“i get lost”) and Juliette Mapp (“Back to New York City”). The first of Lemon’s programs, the electrifying Soul Project, was created by Venezuela-born, Amsterdam-based David Zambrano and performed by him and five gutsy colleagues originally hailing from Mozambique, Slovakia, and the Netherlands.
infuses contemporary dance with the full-throttle exuberance of soul singers. Indeed, black music drives it—a changeable roster of thrilling diva and divo turns, like Patti LaBelle’s “Over the Rainbow” and James Brown’s “The Man in the Glass,” played at bone-shaking pitch. The audience, denied formal seating, is instead encouraged to roam the space as one after another solo breaks out, each danced in a succession of pools of light.
Fanciful costumes help us guess where to turn for the next solo. Look—there’s agile Peter Jasko in skintight satin and sparkly eyelashes. And there’s Nina Fajdiga in her little grass skirt that perfectly matches her hair and the lei that sheds baby pompoms when she erupts into a cross between postmodern hula and Janis Joplin on acid. For up to 90 minutes—apparently the dance and number of performers can expand or contract—audience members drift and settle around the floor as each soloist probes the outer limits of music and body/mind. The movement is taut, wrenching, convulsive.
Spirits, in various cultural rituals, relish the chance to ride the bodies of their human mounts, plying and pressing these borrowed bodies into grotesque expressions, propelling them into dangerous maneuvers that somehow resolve without actual harm to doer or watcher. The snake spirit Damballah surely signals his presence by Milan Herich’s darting, waggling tongue; Hindu goddess Kali shows up in Fajdiga’s rigid, trembling limbs. The skinny, preternaturally limber Edivaldo Ernesto moves like he’s battling one hurricane while gestating another in his belly. His rider must be the roaring storm spirit, Oya. How fascinating to see St. Mark’s—not only an Episcopal church but home to innovative performance—take on the feeling of a terreiro (what practitioners of Candomblé call their house of worship).
Horacio Macuacua’s performance is at once repellant and compelling. Dressed only in a skirt, he makes sudden lurches, frenzied gestures, odd twitches, and manic grimaces. (Sumo wrestling, Javanese dance, and Kabuki come to mind.) He looks like the human equivalent of an out-of-control racecar about to rip into the stands. But just as you find yourself mentally inching away from him, lyrics from that Dreamgirls song ring out—“We’re part of the same place...we both have the same mind...” Zap!
Pictured: Joanna Kotze and Luke Fasano in The Materiality of Impermanence. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu, courtesy DTW