Gerald Casel Dance

April 22, 2010

Gerald Casel Dance
Danspace Project

St. Mark’s Church, NYC

April 22–24, 2010

Reviewed by Siobhan Burke


Gerald Casel’s
Fluster. Photo by Ho Chang, Courtesy Danspace Project.


Sometimes the most pared-down dances are the most rewarding to watch—but also the most puzzling. What is it about just a few bodies moving in space that can hold an audience captive? This question came to mind during Gerald Casel’s visually satisfying Fluster, a new all-male trio that shared the evening with Plot, an all-female quintet. Maybe it’s Casel’s endlessly inventive lexicon, lush yet quirky, that keeps you transfixed. Or it could be his gentle orchestration of comings and goings, as one solo gives way to another or blooms into groupings of two and three.

There’s been no shortage of comparisons between Casel and Stephen Petronio, with whom Casel danced for 11 years. But Petronio’s Joyce season, which I saw the week after Casel’s show, was a reminder of their stylistic differences. While Petronio’s work tends to announce itself defiantly (here we are, thrashing impressively, in designer couture), Casel’s is quieter and less imposing, like something that just happens to be happening in this place at this time.

is a case in point. From the opening image of Samuel von Wentz standing in profile, the work gathers momentum almost imperceptibly. Title aside, von Wentz, Casel, and Nicholas Strafaccia dance like nothing could ruffle them, even through the more dramatic swells of the chime- and bell-rich electronic score (composed by Matthew Meade and Kyle Olson and played live by Meade). With delicious ease and fine precision, they’ll arrive at one shape—an arm outstretched, a raised knee—and pause there, letting limbs settle into sockets, before dissolving into another ornate, spiraling phrase. Cat De Angelis’ handsome costumes (grey slacks and collared shirts) contribute to the aura of casual yet crisp. At the end, the lights go down on a lone dancer (von Wentz again), who gazes upward while spinning in place, as if he’s lost himself a little.

’s pensive mood carried over into the more aggressive Plot, also a premiere. But whereas Fluster’s sequence of events felt necessary, Plot’s often seemed arbitrary. Still, there were bracing moments, like when three dancers encroach on a duet-in-progress, as if to join in—or hijack it—then suddenly retreat back to the sidelines. Omagbitse Omagbemi, more unwieldy than the rest (deliberately, it seemed), gave an especially visceral performance.

In both Fluster and Plot, Casel’s affinity for understatement has a downside; as if intent on remaining neutral, the dancers tend to look vacant, their focus too inward. Before the show, we saw them warming up onstage in rehearsal clothes, making eye contact and exchanging smiles. You crave more of that human connection in the work itself. Nonetheless, this was an evening of honest, generous dancing.