Cathy Weis . Photo: Richard Termine.
Cathy Weis Projects
Dance Theater Workshop, New York, NY
February 16–26, 2005
Reviewed by Rita Felciano
Choreographers aplenty use video in their works; few of them, however, approach this slippery medium with the straightforwardness, grace, and sophistication that Cathy Weis does. Unlike a circus magician who hides the tricks of her trade, Weis puts most of them in plain sight. The whiff of big-tent air that bubbles up from these playful essays is among their most delightful assets. Weis manages to be both witty and thoughtful. On the program were the 2001 A Bad Spot Hurts Like Mad, a on-off relationship duet for Scott Heron and Jennie Liu, and a seven-part world premiere, Electric Haiku: Calm as Custard.
Weis’ quirky imagination is most intriguing when she plays around with abstraction and reality. One would assume that the body’s physical presence onstage is always more affecting than a two-dimensional object. Not so, proves Weis. Often, the video delivers the emotional punch. While the spastic explosiveness of the live movement in Bad Spot clearly speaks to the relationship’s turbulence, it is the image of Liu falling into an Alice of Wonderland rabbit hole that makes you gasp. In Haiku, the toy airplane that dive-bombs at Heron onstage is just that, a toy. Onscreen it acquires a frightening quasi-Hitchcockian reality. And not a trace of narrative colors dancer Diane Madden’s carefully placed movement gestures, yet the screen reveals an intense drama: Madden and her onscreen self approach and part, never once looking at each other, and you ask yourself who these shadowy creatures are. Huddling in a corner, the live dancer almost disappears.
In other sections of Haiku, a painterly quality enlivens the interaction of camera and dancer. Dressed in luscious red formal gowns, Weis and Jennifer Miller (in a beard to boot) push cameras around like shopping carts, transforming their everyday environment into a sea of swirling turbulence. At another point, a wildly swerving and swooping Heron onstage, holding a 2 x 4 with a camera attached to it, becomes the stable eye of a tornado onscreen.
Weis risks resorting to gimmickry in her work, but for the most part she nimbly skirts around it. The scolding dialogue between herself and her face on a TV screen, and the final tableau of Haiku’s circus performers caught on a highway to nowhere, however, come close.