Pavel Zuštiak + Palissimo Company

June 29, 2011

Baryshnikov Arts Center

New York, NY

June 23–25, 2011


Pavel Zuštiak, Nicholas Bruder, and Lindsey Dietz Marchant in
Amidst. Photo by Peter Snadik, courtesy BAC.

With The Painted Bird: Amidst, choreographer Pavel Zuštiak has now delivered the second of his ambitious trio of works influenced by the late, Polish-born novelist Jerzy Kosinski. (Part I, Bastard, had its U.S. premiere last fall at La MaMa. Performance Space 122 will host Part III, Strange Cargo, in October.) The hour-long, multimedia Amidst premiered at Baryshnikov Arts Center, at the stroke of 9:00, as the audience moved from a crowded waiting area to a seat-less space thick with near-blinding, disorienting fog.

We were told to leave our bags near the door or carry them, if we wished, as long we never placed them on the floor. Our only other instruction was to circulate at will. People drifted, greeting and noisily chatting with friends until some of us noticed a small, squarish projection screen hanging mid-air, bearing the image of a white disk. Something to look at! The thought crossed my mind: “This is all it is, a huge joke on us.” But then dancer Lindsey Dietz Marchant slipped past me.

Joe Levasseur’s haze-diffused lighting suddenly changed, a dramatic signal redirecting everyone’s focus to the screen. From my angle, though, this and a later slide show looked dark with photos murkily overlapped, messing with my need to identify an image and understand it. Christian Frederickson’s electronic music (played live) vibrated and thrummed. It gradually registered to people that dancers—Dietz, Zuštiak, and Nicholas Bruder—were among us.

Each of the three dancers began to pop up here and there, continuously shifting our attention around the space or scattering us as their movement expanded. They pushed through foolishly imagined barriers. The band picked up pace, its intensity enlarging or contracting through time. With the crowd’s unpredictable flow, I could not see complete bodies and quickly let go of that need. Bruder’s arm might flail or flop; I might catch the lift of his left heel. Sometimes the crowd’s parting momentarily exposed a single fellow viewer who, for all I knew, could have been an unannounced performer.

In Czech-born Zuštiak—whose body seemed controlled by harsh, external forces, by a creature ready to burst from his solar plexus, or by Dietz and Bruder’s literal attempts to dress him in American-ness—I recognized Kosinski’s persecuted outsider/wanderer. But we, the crowd, also came to take on the vulnerable look of the “painted bird.” Zuštiak’s strategies and effects never felt contrived. And, as always, this artist has chosen forceful performers with the physical skills and courage to follow him into the dark, shuttered spaces of human life.