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Solos & Solitudes: Hilary Clark, Caroline Gravel, Taisha Paggett

By Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Danspace Project, NYC

April 25–27, 2013

Reviewed April 27

 

For their shared curating gig at Danspace Project, scholars Jenn Joy and Noémie Solomon drew inspiration from musings on dance by Georges Didi-Huberman, French philosopher and art historian. Assuming–I suspect correctly—that most of us have not made the acquaintance of M. Didi-Huberman, the pair introduced their program, “Solos & Solitudes,” by cutting right to the chase. Most people, they told us, think of dancing in social terms, involving a lot of bodies. But, their philosopher argues, a solo might be the one place where dance is most visible.


Solos simplify things, don’t they? Perhaps, that is what M. Didi-Huberman had in mind. But, wait: Not so fast!

In Private Realness, Taisha Paggett, a Los Angeles- and Chicago-based dance artist who is black, complicates simplicity by entering the space not by herself but with a white woman. Dancer Greer Dworman, described in the program as a “choreographic assistant,” stands on the sidelines for the initial passage of the work, then participates in various ways. The barefoot Paggett, dressed in a chaste, though somewhat lacy, white skirt and jacket, moves around to gospel music, Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” and a Wiccan chant about tree roots and branches—some hints, there, of cultural overlapping and appropriation. The “soloist” is never alone because, wherever she goes, the specter of the white race—and of black experience under dominant society—is always there. Skewing this notion of solitude in Private Realness is Paggett’s top move. As dance, though, the work seems slight, dry, and less than sharp in execution.

Soloist Caroline Gravel, from Montreal, has someone there with her, too—her mother, though not literally. Ma Mère Est un Mâle Alpha begins with the sound of loud, insistent, and persistent birdcalls. Gravel approaches us and introduces herself, speaks the title in English (“My Mother Is an Alpha Male”) and strides away. Immediately, one senses a certain aggressive and borderline-comic matter-of-factness about the woman, as presented here, that will blossom into something outlandish.

And so it goes. “My mother is an alpha male, and if no one were watching would move like crazy all the time!” But we are watching and, through Gravel, Mother is here. She bursts into awkward trots just short of a stumble, jerks and hurtles atop bony knees, stomps her noisy boots, swings her arms violently, throws her head and long brown hair forward. All of that, combined with Gravel’s wearing what appears to be an early ’60s thrift-store mini-dress, sloppily belted, makes me nickname her Alice in Blunderland.

At times, the audience chuckled—an exhale from the solemnity of the Paggett piece. Despite skepticism, I found myself falling for Gravel. (A favorite moment: The dancer, with her back turned to us, crying in obvious disbelief, “Are you still watching me?”) But the highpoint is her audio recording of an auctioneer in full-throated flow. I still haven’t figured out what that was doing in the solo, but what vocal virtuosity!

Most anticipated on the evening’s bill, Hilary Clark did not disappoint. Dressed in a filmy tunic over neon leggings, she reads from a journal illuminated by a tiny, portable reading light and comically lays down the law. “Move over Superman! There’s a new witch in town!” She sounds more like a teenager screwing up her shaky courage—faking it, not making it—than a woman warrior or, for that matter, a star of the New York avantgarde. But this may be what it means for Clark to be out there, in space, alone. Her solo’s title, Accessories of Protection, appears to refer to the tall and little structures adorned in silvery paillettes, spread around the floor and listlessly rearranged by the dancer. Rihanna’s unconvincing love song, “Diamonds,” plays while Clark encases her whole head in this wearable art, the paillettes glittering like cheap rhinestones. It’s silly and she knows it. The thing is: Who doesn’t love cheap rhinestones?

 

Pictured at top: Hilary Clark in her solo Accessories of Protection.
Photo by Tamara Johnson, Courtesy Danspace.