Amy Sue Rosen, a choreographer, and Derek Bernstein, a painter and sculptor, have been working together for eighteen years. Theirs is the rare collaboration that achieves a true integration of movement and image. This evening, entitled "Triage," included three pieces from the last ten years. The work possesses an elegant simplicity—no extraneous props, dancers, or steps. At certain moments it achieves a sublime blend of kinetics and imagery, consciousness and subconsciousness. A sense of great beauty washes over at these moments.
In the earliest piece, Object Lesson (1990), three dancers in medical whites crawl over the floor and each other. An orderly forest of sixteen transparent beakers, connected with curling cords, monopolizes the space. Eventually, the water in all beakers and tubes receives a squirt of dye that turns it red. With the white costumes, white floor, and bright lighting (by Jeff Fontaine), the piece has a decidedly clinical look, with the gore confined to the beakers. The audiotape of Mieczyslaw Litwinski's haunting voice and accordion transports one to a different place—maybe a hospital in Eastern Europe where nurses are constantly faced with death, or someone's fever dream about the past. The movement motif is a careful hand-to-cheek gesture on all fours. During this uneasy serenity, Kristi Spessard claims the piece with her direct gaze, sensual but clear body movement style, and slight melancholy. About two-thirds of the way through, the dancers abandon the crawling and rise with a kind of celebration of nervousness. And now it is David Parker, getting goofy with his hands, who attracts the eye.
In One Magnificent Gesture (1999), the cast of four wears antique, white costumes by Reiko Kawashima. Laura Staton is sumptuously alluring in her medieval cap and Cinderella outfit—at one point she hangs her broom seemingly in midair. She walks toward the audience to drip water into a bowl repeatedly, then backs up. Thom Fogarty as the man behind her is by turns affectionate, wildly sinister, and wayward. He's controlling her from behind, and the look on both their faces is smugly sexual. Is he her master? Landlord? Rapist? It would be mildly disturbing if it weren't funny, or vice versa. (Fogarty's broad face is quite wonderful to watch throughout the evening.) The magnificent gesture that begins and ends the dance is this: One person fondles an egg with great symbolic drama and then drops it into the hands of another person who has been doubled over, perhaps nursing a headache. The punch is that the headache sufferer seems oblivious of the fondler until the exact moment the egg is dropped. Charmingly, the egg slips out of the hand both times.
The evening's premiere, Abandoning Hope, begins with a mesmerizing scene. A woman in black (Sally Bomer) moves along the floor enveloped in an oval of blue-and-white rippling light (video projection by Douglas Rosenberg). She could be trapped in an enlarged womb, or fleeing toward a bright sky, or drowning in troubled waters. She seems to be both possessed by the traveling pool of light and trying to escape it. A recorded Yiddish song hints at sorrows, perhaps mourning a lost childhood. Later in the piece, the water comes back as a sheet of rain falling downstage onto a long trough. Behind the rain the other performers (Fogarty, Sam Keany, Phillip Karg, and Victoria Boomsma) continue, sometimes gently helping Bomer walk onto their supporting hands; Bomer nevers touches the floor. If hope is to be abandoned, at least a community of friends surrounds and protects her. During the third and last such crossing, Bomer falls into Fogarty's arms, leaving a trail of people behind her. Boomsma is left standing center stage, following Bomer with her eyes. Suddenly the observer is the central figure. One feels the abandonment, but one feels the hope, too. Abandoning Hope, with music by Frank London and I. Manger, is an unsentimental but poetic vision of the end of . . . something.
In a time when dance and art partnerships are sometimes thrust together carelessly, it is both refreshing and satisfying to see a unity of image and mood that reflects a long and deep artistic partnership.
The cast of Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise in rehearsal. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy The Shed
Akram Khan loves to dive into genres he is unfamiliar with. While his own movement vocabulary is a hybrid of kathak and contemporary dance, he has choreographed a new Giselle for English National Ballet, collaborated with flamenco artist Israel Galván and made a dance theater duet with film star Juliette Binoche. Now, in between touring Xenos, his final full-length solo, and several other projects, he's found time to tackle kung fu. Khan is part of the collaborative team behind Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, a blockbuster musical based on themes of migration and the fight for survival, running June 22–July 27. Directed by Chen Shi-Zheng and featuring a score that remixes songs by Sia, it's part of the inaugural season of The Shed, a new venue in New York City.