Does Taking Yourself Out of the Choreography Make It Better?

December 14, 2010

Risa Jaroslow’s Partner Project is all about relationship. Not the romantic kind, but that kinetic, flesh-to-flesh thing that happens between dancers moving.


The piece started out rambunctious, with sounds of chasing and struggling. We craned our necks to look up at the (once condemned) balcony of St. Marks’ Church. Depending on your seat, you could see the source of those sounds: two scrappy people wearing parkas.


These two turn out to be Elise Knudson and Paul Singh, the most expert pairing of The Partner Project. After they came downstairs into the performing space, they tangled and tested each other with quicksilver moves that surprised even themselves. They responded to each other with both subtlety and defiance.


The strong focus on partnering in this piece (full title: The Partner Project/Scene in Public) came as a welcome antidote to some of the other concerts I’ve seen where each dancer is on her/his own and it doesn’t make a difference who is sharing their space.


Here, each dancer is exquisitely aware of the others. There is both tenderness and humor. A motif of putting a jacket onto another dancer or taking it off seems to symbolize intimacy. The jacket brings with it seduction, confrontation, comfort, or belligerence. Just keeping track of what the jacket stands for can keep your eyes busy.


In this destabilized world, there’s room for impossibly large movement (as when they circle the perimeter of the space) as well as small curlicues of the fingers (leading to something we cannot anticipate).


Although the four main dancers (Luke Gutgesell is the fourth) are most comfortable in their own skin, a group of six enlarges the picture. At one point all 10 move as a herd, with one or two people out of sync with that herd, like a wrench in the works but a faster wrench.


The live music by Robert Een lent a certain harmony within the impulsiveness. Although I didn’t discern an overall arc, I saw certain phrases recur, like when Knudson’s chest seems to bust open during smaller moves. This happened during a duet with Rachel Lehrer where I could swear they were improvising in close attention to each other. (Turns out I was partly right)


If you’ve been following Jaroslow’s work (she and I danced together years ago and remain good friends) you can see a new clarity emerge. I think this might be due to the fact that Risa, who was always a very strong performer, has taken herself out of her dances. Her work is now more about ensemble, and that ensemble just devours the space and embodies the ideas.