Lionel Popkin

November 16, 2006

Lionel Popkin
Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church, NYC

November 16-19, 2006

Reviewed by Susan Yung

Lionel Popkin in rehearsal for his Miniature Fantasies

Photo by Steve Schreiber, courtesy Lionel Popkin

In Miniature Fantasies, Lionel Popkin projected slides of jewel-toned 17th-century Indian miniature paintings onto the walls of St. Mark’s Church. The artwork hovered on the walls, and the dancers sometimes manipulated the projectors, aiming the images around the sanctuary or trailing other performers with a projector’s beacon. This potentially rich visual conceit failed due to a relatively primitive technical setup that yielded blurred or fractured images—perhaps intentionally, but the effect was null. And although Popkin made clever use of the space, a stronger dance statement and better integration of its underlying concepts would have made this a memorable evening.

As it was, Fantasies amounted to a stylish if somewhat hollow experience, with clusters of interesting dance. The three performers—Popkin, Jennifer Dignan, and Carolyn Hall—sat spread-legged on the floor in rectangles of white light that sprouted gold borders, hypnotically repeating fast, tiny circles with their ribcages. Then two stood adjacent to each other, and as they sank to the floor one wound up lying atop the other. A kiss planted on the sole of another dancer’s foot became a recurring gesture. An intricate passage for the trio featured interlinked hands, one subtracting a limb here, another adding one there. Popkin set one section of the dance on the church’s longitudinal carpeted tiers, where the dancers propped themselves on their elbows, lay down to rest, or hopped up and down the levels. Hall, in particular, lent the movement an elegant, stealthy quality, adding a beneficial crispness.

The projected miniatures are reproductions of the Laud Ragamala, a collection of 50 works that, according to Popkin’s program note, “take the texture or emotion of a song (raga) and place them in a painting.” Any intentions of overlaying historic episodes on the present were diluted by the mostly illegible quality of the projections and the impeded sightlines. So it was difficult to see the parallels between the miniatures’ subjects and the live performance. Naoko Nagata designed the lushly colored brocade garments, and Kathy Kaufmann the subdued lighting. Andy Russ’ effective sound score drew from eerie tones, bells, and street noise to Schumann’s piano compositions. See