Kate Corby & Dancers
University of Wisconsin—Madison
Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space
October 13–15, 2011
Performance reviewed: Oct. 13
By Susan Kepecs
Kate Corby’s episodic dance theater typically deals in dark content from the psychological realm. Her structures are dreamlike rather than narrative; she favors ambient scores. The premiere of her full-length, 45-minute work, In Whole or In Part, was no exception. The piece takes its title from the 1948 United Nations definition of genocide: “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” With her postmodern movement vocabulary and the collaboration of 20 dancers, Corby explored that concept and a string of related conditions—power, empathy, indifference and violence.
Her approach was almost entirely abstract. Relentless currents of human tension were framed by Orit Ben-Shitrit’s enigmatic, ominous video, boldly projected across the entire backdrop. The shifting images set up plotless scenes against which the dance played out, leaving the viewer free to construct her own stories.
Not all parts of this piece were equal. At one point dancers moved in pairs against a barren seascape. The movement conjured emotional mutilation, but the steps were less arresting than the intensely rolling ocean. A single segment staged outright violence; groups of dancers ran toward each other, screaming and pummeling. Behind them, the camera panned facets of a corrugated tin wall topped with concertina wire—the U.S.-Mexico border? Prison yard? Concentration camp? But the fight, which felt feigned, lacked the edgy mystery of the rest of the performance.
Most of In Whole or In Part, though, was both visually lush and true to Corby’s intent. The image of a pier, water moving below, filled the backdrop with dense blacks and bright whites. Two groups of dancers wearing beige and lit in dazzlingly warm tones faced each other, jumping in place, forearms raised skyward, fists clenched.
The protagonists in an angular pas de deux swapped power; after a tender start the woman dropped from a lift, pushed the man down, and kicked him away. A gasp ran through the audience as the man, contained by other men, grabbed for her again, his heavy breathing the only sound onstage.
A woman stood alone, arms raised, casting her silhouette on the gray video sky behind her. A heliciopter crossed high overhead, then a plane, lower down. A circle of searchlight appeared on the floor; the dancer and her shadow spun along its edges in striking silence.
A repeating pattern with a staticky soundtrack brought the work to a close. Minor alterations in movement, light, sound, and costume differentiated each pass. Pairs and groups wove through the action, but at its core a woman dragged herself across the stage, the palm of her hand pressed to her forehead in a gesture of weary horror. Three men crossed behind her; one lingered, staring at the projected waves. During this looping performance the dancers’ white costumes gave way, piece by piece, to blood red. The final run was faster than the rest. The stage went dark, leaving mental after-images of the sequence and a rising tide of existential questions.
Photos: Erin Kilmrray and Mikey Rioux in Corby’s
In Whole or In Part. Orit Ben-Shitrit’s video in background. By Shomari Montsho, courtesy Kate Corby & Dancers.