Crispin Spaeth Dance Group

February 17, 2006

Crispin Spaeth Dance Group in
Dark Room
Photo by Benjamin Kirby, courtesy Crispin Spaeth


Crispin Spaeth Dance Group
Western Bridge, Seattle, WA

February 17–18, 24–25, March 3–4, 2006

Reviewed by Sandra Kurtz


Crispin Spaeth has been making it hard to see her dances for several years, turning the light levels down and performing behind a translucent curtain. But now she turns the lights out altogether. Dark Room is performed in a darkened theater, and the only way we in the audience can see the dancers is by using night-vision scopes, taking the standard voyeurism of performance to an entirely different level.

The audience sits along two sides of the room with the dancers in the space between, their territory marked by a rug so they can feel when they’re in danger of running into the wall. Yann Novak’s sound score hums and buzzes, masking any aural clues, so the dancers are “deaf” as well as blind. We scan the space, looking for any sign of movement, and when we find someone it feels like a victory, like we’ve caught them. The technology turns audience into hunters and performers into prey. The scopes give the dancers a ghostly green halo, like the familiar images from TV war coverage, and the narrow field of vision makes it difficult to keep them in view. They often appear abruptly, only to fade from sight even as we stare right at them, willing them to remain visible.

Spaeth modifies her usual risky movement vocabulary here. The work is full of hesitant touching and leaning, reaching with the limbs as the dancers “look” for contact—the occasional jump or spin is a real leap of faith. The choreographer’s customary contact improvisation-influenced partnering has a dangerous vibe in this environment, and our fuzzy vision makes the dancers’ connections seem ever more tenuous. The random nature of the images we manage to find de-emphasizes choreographic structure—we have no way of knowing what we’re missing. Like in Merce Cunningham’s universe, you understand that things could be happening anywhere, but here you don’t choose where to look so much as search for something to look at. Spaeth turns the tables on her audience; Dark Room is as much about seeing as it is about dancing. See