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Ivy Baldwin Dance
The Chocolate Factory, NYC
October 20–30, 2010
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Ivy Baldwin in Here Rests Peggy. Photo by Nafis Azad, courtesy The Chocolate Factory.
At the close of Here Rests Peggy’s hour, a viewer might wind up nearly as sweaty as Lawrence Cassella, whose copious, distracting, eventually hazardous perspiration, early on, had drenched his entire head and later seeped through his heavy pants. Over the course of the evening, each of Ivy Baldwin’s swift dancers—Eleanor Smith, Katie Workum, Cassella, and the choreographer herself—nearly slipped to his or her doom, adding to this strange work’s atmosphere of instability and anxiety.
The piece, Baldwin has said, is “influenced by the constant crashing of the Ligurian Sea, the dramatic and stylized world of German Expressionist film, and the outrageous life of Peggy Guggenheim,” the legendary art world catalyst and erotic muse. Saturated with unspecified drama and hyper-physicalized emotion, Here Rests Peggy splashes about and flails itself against the gradually claustrophobia-inducing confines of the performance space. An abstract painting by Anna Schuleit—with dynamic splotches and sizzling lines—serves as the dancers’ backdrop as well as a barrier to thrash and thrash again.
The three women wear short, dark party dresses with a hint of thrown-together, askew elegance. Their skirts make dry, swishing noises as they swoosh in movement. Cassella’s very ordinary grey suit vest is neatly fringed with peacock feathers as if, in costume designer Walter Dundervill’s mind, the dancer was concealing or about to sprout something extraordinary.
Justin Jones' surreal score plays out with a jittery low fever—an internal, obsessive, often sensuous shuffling constructed of sounds natural, vocal, and cinematic. Dancing begins with wiggly knees and hips, arms lashing and propelling in arcs, bodies coursing throughout the little box of space in a superficially controlled if suspiciously manic way. You quickly sense something amiss, as if Baldwin has spliced together peak events from a ballet, making only rare visits to the valley and rare transitions. And what's going on when a quietly predatory Cassella repeatedly presses his knee to the supine Baldwin's chest? She finally says, “Get off me.” He yields.
One appreciates the swinging, full-body reach and exuberance of Baldwin’s choreography and the all-in conviction of her dancers. Nevertheless, it’s a grueling pressure cooker for performers and watchers alike. Where Baldwin does introduce stillness—or, at least, some precious or melty re-positioning—the effect is eerie. The force of the previous violence reverberates in the space as well as in your own body and mind before the next eruption occurs. You learn not to trust what looks like peace.
Here Rests Peggy contains some “haunted house” surprises—heightened, sometimes alarming uses of force and imagery—best left to discovery by new audiences. She gets your full attention, for sure, even if you end up just wanting to flee.