Ellie Sandstrom in Mark Haim’s Goldberg Variations
Photo by Tim Summers, courtesy On the Boards
On the Boards, Seattle, WA
March 30–April 1, 2006
Reviewed by Sandra Kurtz
Creating a program-length solo dance can seem like taking a running jump at Mt. Everest—you do it to see if you can. That’s what Mark Haim did in 1997, when he made The Goldberg Variations as a solo work, a kind of virtuoso endurance contest to go along with the famously tricky score by J.S. Bach. But in his new staging at On the Boards he’s divided the 30 sections between 5 Seattle-based dancers and himself, so that the virtuosity comes from the variety of styles and approaches rather than the difficulty of completing the whole work.
If you didn’t know Haim had made the dance for himself you would assume it was custom-tailored for its new cast, since it fits their individual skills and quirks. Sean Ryan’s comic timing serves him well as he switches from a footballer to a disco boy, running plays or grooving to a blissed-out version of the hustle, complete with “Ooh, baby” vocals. Amy O’Neal is good with a joke too, spitting water from bulging cheeks as she revolves on a turntable, but she moves with rhythmic subtlety as downbeats shift places in a phrase. Tonya Lockyer and Jim Kent, both exceptionally beautiful dancers, work in different elements. The lush and powerful Lockyer surges across the floor in a series of rolls that finish in a tenderly exposed moment as she looks up at a spotlight. Kent’s native habitat is the air—he seems fleet and fast, even when he’s moving slowly, his arms and legs flashing through shapes rather than pressing into them. Ellie Sandstrom is fierce enough to intimidate the viewer; even to the back rows of the theater she demands our attention, but her intensity is never mean. She dances with integrity, etching her outline on our retinas.
Haim himself seems mercurial, especially on the night he performs the whole suite by himself. Seeing the larger cast first puts the structure of the solo version in a different light, highlighting the changes in dynamics and amplitude, pointing out the strategies in pacing where a slow movement comes after an aerobic challenge. His relationship with pianist André Gribou, who performed live at all three shows, was especially fine. Haim is not afraid to make purely beautiful movement, and there are moments in Goldberg of real grace, but there are also humor, aggression, passion, and a kind of snarky wit. Whether he’s lifting his arms in a Duncan-like welcome, running in a widening spiral that takes him out one door and in another, or coordinating a symphony of swinging limbs, a thread of pure sweetness connects it all. See www.ontheboards.org.