Martha Clarke

February 12, 2007

Martha Clarke’s fine, sophisticated dance-theater work, Kaos, evokes the earthiness of life in a Sicilian village at the end of the 19th century. Inspired by the Taviani Brothers’ 1984 movie of the same name and Luigi Pirandello’s short stories (on which the film is based), Clarke explores themes of love and death, weaving her particular fabric from movement, music, and text, mysterious for being spoken in Italian. (The succinct, skillful text adaptation is by Frank Pugliese.)


In the village square, 14 figures, almost entirely in black, drift through the work like characters in a dream. The men assemble to go to America. A gray-haired mother (Daria Deflorian) begs to have a letter carried to sons who departed years before. Her son by rape, whom she rejects, follows her about pathetically. Stunning Gabriella Malone depicted the mother as a young woman—dragged by her hair, slammed against a wall, taken with her skirts over her head. In a Freudian touch, Robert Wersinger portrayed both rapist and son. Men and women break into folk dance. A young man overcome by moon sickness (Vito Di Bella) writhes in agony, while his lonely, frustrated bride (Christina Spina) despairs of her union. Musicians appear, play guitar, tambourine, Jew’s harp, fade away. The short-trousered village idiot, a scarecrow of a man (Matthew Mohr), wanders with his string of bells. A peasant patriarch (the fine Felix Blaska) smiles slyly from his coffin when he learns he can be buried on the land he has farmed all his life.


Clarke has been well served by her collaborators, music supervisors/composers Jill Jaffe and John LaBarbera, scenic designer Scott Pask (whose adjoining walls suggest aged buildings and a modest piazza), and the haunting lighting of Christopher Akerlind.


At the work’s close, Blaska sits on the side of his coffin and talks to Deflorian, here as his late mother, as both attempt to understand the experiences of their lives—two old people facing and accepting the end of their days. “What I cannot convey is the feeling of sand on my feet,” she tells him in the fading light. It’s a serene denouement to a work that casts a powerful spell. See