A Different Kind of Diva

May 26, 2008

We usually think of a diva as having outsize charisma, theatricality, and a touch of narcissism. But “La MaMa Moves!” presented a program called Dancing Divas with Sara Rudner, Vicky Shick, Jodi Melnick, and Sally Silvers, celebrating a different kind of diva. All four women know how to take up physical and mental space without making big theatrical gestures. [I have to confess right here, though I don’t know if up-front disclosure is as compulsory for bloggers as for print journalists, that I am friends or friendly with, and have danced with, all four.) I doubt whether any of the women on this concert (which was organized by Nicky Paraiso and Mia Yoo and also included works by Barbara Mahler and Pam Tanowitz) think of themselves as divas. But the word does fit in a downtown, alternative sort of way.

    Rudner first: Anytime she moves, it’s cause for alertness. I could watch her for hours, and I know many people feel this way. In this piece, Positions—The All Star Variation, she sprang into action as soon as John Scott (a guest director from Ireland) started ordering her around: “Fight with Chris [Yon],” and she snapped into hyper cartoon-style boxing. Whether Rudner is following orders as she did that night (or as she did during 20 years of dancing and defining Tharp) or creating her own dances, or improvising, her light has not dimmed. Her child-eagerness spills over onto the viewer’s eagerness, and the details of her performing seem revelatory.

    Shick: No matter what she does, she telegraphs elegance, simplicity, languor. In Double Vision, the duet she is co-creating with Eva Karczag, there is never any feeling of forcing. And, even in the simplest standing , sitting, or waiting, a womanliness, a contained sensuality blends fortuitously with her clear focus. Her inner life is evident in certain moments like when she peers from behind an upended table, hidden all except her eyes, while Karczag gently outlines her own body on the table’s surface. You see a kind of old-world patience and yes, a hint of glamor.

    Melnick: Wearing a pale grey party dress in an excerpt from Business of the Bloom, she strikes a perfect combination of oddness and ravishing-ness. She slithers through movement, almost touching her face, almost ducking under her hands. What she projects is not joy or mastery, but a kind of state of questioning and a taste for eluding the obvious.

    Silvers: Going about her business of discovery for decades now, she scurries around the space doing moves that most choreographers would reject as too silly. In Yellin’ Gravy, seriousness and ridiculousness exist side by side, make for a riveting show, especially coupled with Bruce Andrews’ word-and-politics play. (Absurdist lines like “Your collateral has a reminiscence” are spliced with references to black power.) Whether it’s a quasi port de bras, or a fish-out-of-water flapping of the hands behind the back, all movements are treated democratically. Her focus grows more determined and relaxed and suddenly, if you stay with her, she can remind you of Janis Joplin giving a little piece of her heart.

    I salute all these women for their different kinds of diva-ness. You have to sit up and look a little closer for it, but it can be just as outsized and satisfying as the higher wattage kind of diva.