A Stranger Brings Light to Darkness

January 20, 2008

Richard Siegal danced mostly in dimness in his
As If Stranger,
but by the end I felt like sunlight was streaming into the room. The light had to do with words, not actual light. Much of the show, a premiere at the Danspace Project that’s part of its Global Exchange program, seemed to be propelled by words. A recording of Gertrude Stein repeating or nearly repeating “Repeating then is in everyone” set up the strangeness. But she also had such clear rhythms—like leading you into a thought tunnel—that many dancers have been attracted to using her recordings.

         Siegal relishes how strange the body can be. A live feedback video (by Philip Bussman) of his hands close-up makes them look like more private parts of the body, or like his two hands are chasing each other. Another episode projects a film on his bare torso that makes it look like his stomach is speaking.

One would think his dancing is strange if one were not familiar with the urgency, hyper-articulation and distortion of William Forsythe, with whom Siegal danced for years. He crawls on the floor like a mollusk, never showing his face. (His face appears only on a huge screen distorted in the eyes and mouth to make him look, well, strange.) Even when vertical, he doesn’t look out at the audience.  Like Savion Glover, he hunkers down and pays attention to what he is doing, not how we react. He performs actions with utmost specificity, like a mime artist. You almost hear the words he is thinking: “Circle the pelvis, hold a cup, jump over a puddle, fix a sleeve, hand touches knee, head replaces hand, turn yourself inside out.” But the actions pass through his body so quickly that you can’t even finish these thoughts in your mind.

Words are projected in a vertical or horizontal column. Siegel forlornly sings these words to tunes like “Cheek to Cheek.” Funny, whimsical, dark, waifish. Suddenly he is caught in a fast-moving row of horizontal words as though blasted from a fire extinguisher. He is running in place, he is pinned down, he is bowled over.

After Siegal exits the space, a film of him comes on—and here is where the light, I mean a kind of spiritual light, takes over. We hear soft, soothing music (earlier, some of the music, performed by Eric-Maria Couturier on cello, has been grating) and see a blurry, dreamlike version of Siegal signaling with his arms. Yellow letters emerge one by one. It seems that he is spinning out the letters from his forearms.


And he pushes the letters upward


He pushes them upward again


All the letters rise and scatter in the darkness.


During the two or so minutes it takes for this to happen, I feel my eyes burn and my mood open up. No matter how you interpret the world “hero,” he seems to be saying, Go ahead, be the best that you can be, the noblest, the most connected to life.

(P.S. I found out later that the phrase is from Nietzche’s
Thus Spoke Zarathustra.)