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The Forsythe Company
Sadler’s Wells • London, England • February 22–23, 2011 • Reviewed by Donald Hutera
William Forsythe’s work hits shapes, rhythms, and ideas in ways that other choreographer/directors cannot, or for which they don’t even aim. I don’t believe in outer space is a prime example. Created in 2008 for an ensemble of 18, and lasting about 80 minutes, it’s a neo-vaudevillian laugh in the face of death that harbors a surprising poignancy.
It kicks off in a tone of aggressive absurdity. The stage is covered with small black rocks, like some kind of cosmic detritus. (They’re actually discarded, balled-up wads of electrician’s tape.) Into this vaguely desolate landscape writhes Dana Caspersen, Forsythe’s compact, wiry little muse. Delivering a dual monologue, this remarkable irritant keeps shape-shifting between roles as a rabid, gruff-voiced alien new to the neighborhood and a good, clean, and doubtless conservative, suburban housewife unsure of how much welcome to extend the peculiarly monstrous creature at her door.
Soon the rest of the cast is indulging in a cacophony of declamatory rants, the verbal excrescences matched by the restless, incessantly wriggling vocabulary that has lately become Forsythe’s trademark. The screaming and shouting grate, while the kooky, jittery humor can feel forced. There’s a curious, mimetic game of ping-pong; an hysterically tumbling mutual massage; a visit from a beaming, manic Japanese fitness instructor; and another monologue by a bandaged, squeaky-shoed man. The latter is possibly a scientist, or the victim of a medical experiment gone awry, who declares, “There is no such thing as research, only researchers.” And let’s not forget the giant playing card—a joker, of course.
But, like the seemingly chaotic, asylum-ready behavior on display, Forsythe’s motives are deceptive. The emotional content underlying this performance’s fragmented flow sneaks up on you. Alongside the kooky nods to stand-up comedy are references to popular music, especially “I Will Survive.” First heard with its lyrics brayed by a man lying flat on his back, and later given mock-operatic treatment, Gloria Gaynor’s deathless disco anthem is forever retrieved from the realms of karaoke camp. Its words keep popping up like a mutating aural artifact of no little profundity. The show’s crazy shock tactics are further balanced by passages of more pensive movement scored with uncharacteristic restraint by Forsythe’s long-time collaborator Thom Willems. The tone carries over into the finale with Caspersen’s calm recital of all that nonexistence brings (“No more things that fall…No more being 15…No more planning a party, saying ‘Let’s have margaritas!’ and then running out of ice”).
Here, quietly questioning the meaning of life, Forsythe risks sentimentalizing mortality. But he gets away with it, as does a pack of dancers who are incredibly adept at going for broke. This may not be the avant-garde maestro’s most striking or innovative piece of dance theater, but its core of feeling will likely prove memorable.
Paul Taylor Dance Company
New York City Center • NYC • February 22–March 6, 2011 • Reviewed by Susan Yung
As reliably as the seasons change, Paul Taylor Dance Company presented two premieres in its annual stint of 15 repertory works at City Center—one dramatic (Three Dubious Memories) and one whimsically macabre (Phantasmagoria).
Taylor’s curious and often inspired ideas unspool as Memories progresses. Foremost is a love triangle (Amy Young, Sean Mahoney, Robert Kleinendorst) told from each participant’s viewpoint. A Greek chorus as witness and jury, led by James Samson, observes the protagonists. The trio wears primary hues of red, green, and blue, in vivid contrast to the grayscale jeans and tops of the chorus of seven (Santo Loquasto designed the costumes). The courtship/consummation cycle, refracted through the prism of the trio, ranges from romantic to caustic to jealous; the last viewpoint interestingly pulls the two men into a relationship. Peter Elyakim Taussig’s peculiar music—which varies from easy-listening jazz to a dramatic choral song—reflects the perpetually shifting emotional ground.
Taylor here effectively deploys his “archaic” language—epitomized in his Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal)—imagery that brings to mind Grecian urns, Rodin’s sculpture, or Nijinsky’s Faun. In this Taylor idiom, stylized gestures are inserted strategically: a fake slap merits a stiff palm rubbed over the stung cheek; a kick elicits a delayed folding in half, cartoon-style. Simple, clear, naïve, it feels completely fresh, indicative of Taylor’s everyman genius. How gratifying to see lead roles being set on Amy Young, an elegant, lucid dancer both lyrical and powerful. Samson, with his Taylor body-double physique, is now deservedly prominent in the repertoire. He projects vulnerability, compassion, and intelligence and has matured into a formidable presence.
Phantasmagoria, set to early music, evokes Bruegel’s paintings through Loquasto’s peasant garb (although the multi-hued scrim, designed by Loquasto and lit by Jennifer Tipton, felt atypically inadequate). The characters portray a time not unlike today, in which Dionysian appetites vie with religious zealotry for public sentiment. The cavalcade features a gilded queen and king (Parisa Khobdeh, now the reigning female comic, with Mahoney and a trusty snake), a hypocritical nun (Laura Halzack, putting her peerless posture and sangfroid to work), a hale step-dancer (a beclogged Michelle Fleet), a drunk (Kleinendorst), and three “Isadorables”—incarnations of Duncan (including the lush Annmaria Mazzini, who, sadly, is retiring—see “Transitions,” p. 59). Michael Trusnovec, jolting and electric despite his disintegrating mummy wrappings, transmits a disease named after St. Vitus, the patron saint of dance—one touch quickly, if temporarily, levels the stratified society. Taylor’s perverse black humor comes through loud and clear, despite the piece feeling more sketch than fleshed-out portrait.
David Kern, Esther Balfe, and Ander Zabala in I don’t believe in outer space. Photo by Dominik Mentzos, courtesy Sadler's Wells