Keely Garfield Dance

March 26, 2009


Keely Garfield Dance

Danspace Project at

St. Mark’s Church, NYC
March 26–28, 2009

Reviewed by Siobhan Burke


Garfield in the midst of her

First Attempt. Photo by

Cyrus Ra, courtesy Garfield.



Near the beginning of Keely Garfield’s latest trilogy, two performers lead us in a countdown to liftoff. It’s a fitting launch to the three works ahead, which amount to a compelling ride through Garfield’s turbulent imagination. With her talent for telling an exquisitely twisted story, Garfield steers us through episodes both glimmering and grim, way-out-there yet close to home. We emerge a bit unsettled but moved, as if from the scenes of an unshakeable dream.

First Attempt
stars Garfield as a cross between strung-out popstar and captain of a voyage into outer-space, lost in what looks like a post-apocalyptic suburban backyard. The clutter around her (with the exception of sidekicks Brandin Steffensen and Omagbitse Omagbemi) is 100 percent synthetic, from her Astroturf landing, to her pleather pants, to the stuffed bulldog perched beside her yellow lawn chair.

In this man-made-and-ruined universe, Garfield appears to be searching for signs of life—human, animal, divine––though at first she seems pretty empty herself. Stirring to consciousness from a heap on the floor, she swaggers, struts, and sprawls about, narrating her journey through the lines of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Her antics––sticking a toaster plug in her mouth, cradling a garden gnome––combine the exhibitionism of a reality TV star with the attention span of an over-stimulated child. But a few deliberate movement phrases suggest she is, indeed, on an earnest quest. She gives us hand signals––“stop,” “OK,” “come here”––and stirs the air with her palms, as if conjuring a spell. When she slowly lifts up her T-shirt (“As Seen on MySpace,” it reads) and twists the fabric around her arm like a sling, it’s like an admission of her lonely, vulnerable state. The refrain of a song by Death Cab for Cutie, “I need you so much closer,” drives her message home.

In Eva Potranspiration/Cloud 9, Garfield, Steffensen, and Vivian Ra (Garfield’s 8-year-old daughter) transport us to another suburban realm: the nuclear family in its precariously happy home, complete with ironing board and leather office chair. Whatever sinister currents are lurking beneath this household’s surface, Garfield’s inner evangelist comes out to fight them. Fashioning a bright white cross from two fluorescent light-bulbs, she wields it at the handsome, sweater-vest-clad Steffensen. But in the closing moments, it’s Ra who emerges as an eerie emblem of salvation, as Steffensen lifts her into a fragile crucifixion pose beneath the arched entryway to St. Mark’s Church. Matthew Brookshire strums on a ukulele, his sweet melodies intermingling with the darker shades of this tale.

The theme of “needing you closer” returns in Limerence, which comes to us through the ever-shifting glow of Jonathan Belcher’s movable onstage lights. In a duet between Garfield and Omagbemi, intense desire somehow manifests through reckless, half-hearted gesture. One woman spits into her palms, then rubs them over the other’s body; when one falls, the other tries picking her up, but both end up back on the ground. In a passage that sears through the piece with its simplicity, the two crawl diagonally downstage in unison, shoulders shifting and heads bowed, conveying both an intuitive bond and an unbridgeable distance. Later, Steffensen and Garfield continue the dance of injuring and nurturing, of clutching and shrugging off.

But this endlessly quarreling pair also wants to soar away together, and when they do, it’s downright beautiful. A stationary bike has been awaiting them stage left; with Steffensen pedaling and Garfield standing tall on the silver seat, their bodies dissolve into darkness, their silhouettes floating upward against a ceiling of brilliant, kaleidoscopic light. Back here on planet Earth, we wish we could go with them.