Jane Comfort and Dancers

September 27, 2008

Jane Comfort and Dancers
The Duke on 42nd Street, NYC

September 27, 2008

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Photo by Arthur Elgort. Sean Donovan (seated), Jessica Anthony, and Olase Freeman.


Jane Comfort’s latest piece overlaps airline security lines and high-fashion runways, government-sanctioned torture and prime-time TV. It comes at a time when most of us have probably given up on using mad spending and obsession with “reality” shows to escape reality. The deft thumbing of a remote won’t be enough to block the screams issuing from that rickety rollercoaster, the U.S. economy. So, here’s my concern about An American Rendition: Who—aside from the stressed-out choir—is actually paying attention to Comfort’s ideas?

Not that that’s Comfort’s fault. Respected for her socially progressive work, she has delivered another clear blow against injustice. Credit seven talented performers (collaborators in choreography), Steve Miller (visuals), Liz Prince (costumes), David Ferri (lighting) and Joan La Barbara (music) for effectively constructing the choreographer’s provocative vision.

An American Rendition
teases out the seductive glamour dressing up violence and the violence lurking beneath glamour. A Simon Cowell-style show host taunts pathetic contestants. An interrogator pulverizes the body and mind of an innocent American citizen.

Here, the role of the body—the role of dance—is a crucial if perverse one. Bodies wear and parade fashion, sometimes pushing images of women intended to look ill, weak, disheveled, broken, even dead and discarded like trash; tortured bodies absorb blows and display the results of brutality. In dance, a body might flip upside down in a show of acrobatic skill; in waterboarding, a body is flipped to make a detainee, hitherto silent, succumb to the threat of drowning. In a commercial context, sexual come-ons sell; in torture, they humiliate.

We channel-surf between these not-so-benign, high-stakes worlds of couture and pop culture to the grim world of “extraordinary rendition” where anyone suspected of terrorist ties can be swept off to a torture cell in a foreign country. The worlds blend; it’s dizzying. Like that poor detainee, we’re no longer sure of where we are.

I sat in a Saturday matinee, amid a small audience and a shocking number of empty seats, depressed, wondering who attends dance and, particularly, dance of this nature. Who receives, who will never receive, and who most needs Comfort’s message? What can we do to make a dance like this—and dance itself—matter to a nation that has fallen into Dick Cheney’s dark side?