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Christina Olsen: American Model

By Carrie Stern

Claire Danes in Tamar Rogoff’s Christina Olsen: American Model
Photo by Harvey Wang

 

Christina Olsen: American Model
Choreography by Tamar Rogoff, danced by Claire Danes
P.S. 122, New York, NY
September 21–October 2, 2005
Reviewed by Carrie Stern

 

Sitting on one hip, legs bent to the side, back straight, actress Claire Danes pulls her head sideways, her long, wispy, blonde ponytail twisted in her hands. Danes’ uncanny resemblance to Christina Olsen, the mysterious subject of Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World, inspired choreographer Tamar Rogoff. The work’s small but powerful vocabulary of simple, recurring movements and phrases suggests Olsen’s crippled reality, her struggle for independence, and her interior existence.

In life, muscular deterioration crippled Christina Olsen. In Rogoff’s work, Danes uses her arms to drag her curved body along the floor, crooked legs lagging behind. Desperate running and rhythmic, angry stamping balance against moments of calm walking and sensual rippling through the body, altered in an instant by feet that unexpectedly turn in. Another phrase begins with Dane’s back flat, her arms hanging down. Abruptly, her body tilts, her right arm almost dislocating at the shoulder as it wraps around her torso, and she walks, “hitching” one leg along.

Recalling Wyeth’s painting, video images of an old barn (by Harvey Wang and Andrew Baker) play behind Danes’ creeping body. Later a man’s face peers through a window, the image fading as Danes reads a list of Christina’s friends who marry while she does not. Christina’s inner and outer lives are suggested as Danes removes Liz Prince’s 1930s-style dress to dance in a bright turquoise slip, later covering the slip again. Text passages from two books about Wyeth flesh out the imagery.

As Christina’s body deteriorates, her inner dance becomes brighter. Danes lies on a platform in a black slip as video footage shows her pulling herself across First Avenue and laboring up the theater steps in a stark portrayal of Christina’s reality. As the video ends Danes dances feverishly, stamping, leaning, and kicking the miked platform, which echoes with her sound. Perhaps this is Christina’s final wish—to feel her body in all its moods.

Danes, who studied dance for 10 years as a child, began taking Rogoff’s class at P.S. 122 a little over a year ago; this work grew out of their association. The actress moves well with no artifice. Most striking, though, is her focus and her willing vulnerability. When a strap on her slip accidentally breaks, she continues to dance with no visible loss of passion, afterward covering herself shyly.