Florence Gould Hall, NYC
September 24–26, 2008
Reviewed by Nancy Alfaro
Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.
Karen Røise Kielland,
Pere Faura, Stefan Rokebrand,
Katja Dreyer, and Bill Aitchison
in Ivana Müller's While We Were
Holding It Together at Dance Theater Workshop.
While We Were Holding It Together is a witty theatrical event from Paris- and Amsterdam-based choreographer Ivana Müller. Co-presented by Dance Theater Workshop and the French Alliance’s “Crossing the Line” series, the piece opens with a colorful tableau vivant: Four performers assume a variety of frozen standing positions, while the fifth casually reclines on the floor, propped on her elbow.
Because these initial poses are in perfect silence, the viewer is able to absorb the barebones staging; the actors’ deadpan expressions; and their colorful, shabby-chic street-wear. The lack of sound and movement leaves the audience expectant, and when the first blackout occurs you believe you’re in for your reward. The scene is revealed again, and nothing new happens, so the audience’s refuted expectation becomes a humorous self-observation.
When the lights come up a third time, the setting remains the same. But the actors begin to speak, starting each time with the words, “I imagine.” Their fantasies, wishes, and thoughts are revealed with phrases like “soldiers in a minefield,” or “statues in a museum.” Because there is no set or movement, the audience is riveted by the text, the sound of the actors’ voices, and their European-accented English.
As the evening progresses, the performers switch places and adopt the previous actor’s stance, or strike their own new positions. The only movement we really see is the shaking of limbs as the performers struggle to retain the stillness of their outstretched arms. Somehow this small, tremulous movement becomes an added layer, a new focal point, and you wonder whether or not their shaking is really originating from strain, or if the actor is exaggerating its intensity.
Bit by bit, the complexities of Müller’s concept emerge. Even when the lights go off, the actors continue to speak, leaving the imagination to determine where they are in space. It’s like listening to a radio play, where you’re free to create your own scenario. The text is mundane yet somehow profound and funny, and the actors’ simple storytelling approach makes their pronouncements easy for the audience to identify with.
I liked While We Were Holding It Together and thought it a clever theatrical work. But the question of whether or not it’s dance isn’t even debatable; it’s not. And because there is so little money available for dance and choreography, the need to distinguish which works are presented as dance is absolutely necessary.