Platform 2010: certain difficulties, certain joy

September 22, 2010

Danspace Project’s Platform 2010: certain difficulties, certain joy // Curated by Trajal Harrell // September 22–October 30, 2010 // St. Mark’s Church and Florence Gould Hall, NYC // Reviewed by Cynthia Hedstrom


Photo: DD Dorvillier in her
No Change or “freedom is a psycho-kinetic skill.” Photo by Thomas Dunn, Courtesy Danspace.

Tucked into New York’s jam-packed fall season, a small festival curated by the choreographer Trajal Harrell offered a series of gems. It was one of several artist-curated “platforms” presented by Danspace Project, each organized around an overarching theme. Harrell’s title, “certain difficulties, certain joy,” suggested possible political, social, or spiritual agendas. But his interest lay more closely with the expressive body and dances that are sourced from an undercurrent of pleasure. On some level, all the choreographers in the platform were facing the difficulties of loss—of control, faith, romance, form—and through that process expressed undeniable joy—subtle or explosive.

Most haunting was the remounting of a work by DD Dorvillier, No Change or “freedom is a psycho-kinetic skill.” Dorvillier installed a bright white floor and wall in St. Mark’s Church. Black electrical cords snaked across the space along with askew mic stands, an overturned bucket, a couple of sandbags, and a small sound mixer. Dorvillier, casually dressed, moved with sly, sideways glances. She seemed to be “questioning” the space and the objects in it: What will change if I step forward and turn to gaze at my heel, run sideways, fall and curl? What if I entangle myself with the mic stand without using my hands? Or grab a live mic and shove it in my pants, noisily push my jeans down to my heels, and squat, revealing the lines of my hips? At times she makes a racket, as when she swings a mic against a board or kicks the bucket against the back wall. Other times she moves in a deeply quiet state against a tonal drone. Her cohort, Elizabeth Ward, slips in and out of Dorvillier’s world, her task-like approach not without emotional resonance. In a white filmy dress she dips into elegant arabesques while clasping a to-go coffee cup. In work clothes, she shines a movable light on Dorvillier, casting great shadows. She lies prone on a mic and rocks side to side. The two dancers perform without indicating what they want the viewer to think or feel. Mysteriously, this encourages us to gaze deeply into their world. No Change is without narrative, yet it is full of the stuff of stories: vulnerabilities, braveries and terrors, all suffused with a subdued pleasure.

Madame Plaza
(co-presented with the French Institute Alliance Française “Crossing the Line” festival at Florence Gould Hall) brought together the worlds of Bouchra Ouizguen, a Moroccan choreographer who is part of the postmodern dance scene in France, and three Moroccan village Aïta singers. The Aïta come from a long tradition of female social and nightclub performers. Madame Plaza lacked a fully realized structure, but the Aïta performers were riveting. Unselfconscious and comfortable in their ample, untrained bodies, they drew the audience into languorous perceptual shifts, then startled with bursts of ferocious energy. It was their unencumbered talents that carried the piece.

French choreographer Emmanuelle Huynh created simple obstacles and simple pleasures. Numéro is a tongue-in-cheek circus-like performance made with visual artist Nicolas Floc’h. The audience is jolted to attention when a fluorescent-tipped arrow whizzes across the space and jams into a wall with a thud, then another and another until 20 or so arrows pepper the cardboard walls around the performance area. With the stance of a matador, Huynh enters in high heels and a short skirt carrying more arrow-poles. Spoofing the old trick of piercing daggers through a box in which a damsel lies helpless, Huynh skewers her 6- to 10-foot poles through a box in which Floc’h has been hiding. Houdini-like, he escapes. Later, when Huynh finds herself pinned against the floor by the criss-crossed poles, she performs a delicate game of pick-up-sticks. Carefully unpicking her poles, she is released from the net of made-up dangers.

Argentinean choreographer Cecilia Bengolea and French choreographer François Chaignaud presented a decidedly macabre take on the traditional Sylphides story. Their three sylphs, existing between the living and the dead, are encased in giant black plastic pillows. Using a small portable vacuum, a vampiric madam sucks the air out of their inflated tombs. To the audience’s terror (or perverse fascination), each dancer becomes shrink-wrapped—from head to toe—in black plastic. (They do have a tiny mouth tube for breathing).  Zombie-like, they begin to push against their encasements. These nether-world creatures roll and bump blindly into each other and around the space until the madam unzips their sacks. Like butterflies emerging from a chrysalis, they gawkily find their feet and unleash raucous, twisting dances. Simplistic in its structure, Sylphides’ nervy visuals were astonishing.

Daria Faïn and Aitana Cordero shared a program of solos. Faïn’s Working with Stockhausen’s Stimmung (1968) is actually a septet, with six vocalists joining her onstage. The musical composition Stimmung is built on harmonic overtones, constructed around a word or phonetic sounds. Faïn physicalizes the score through her dancing, while the singers fill St. Mark’s Church with tonal vibrations and rhythmic consonants. She becomes a moving river among the singers. As a dancer, Faïn is rooted in the sinews and energy flows of her body. Her arms and hands mold the air around her, and simple gestures—turning the palm of her hand, tossing her arms upward, dropping into a plié, springing into the air—carry the joy of deep psychic connection.

The prologue to Aitana Cordero’s Solo…? is a written list projected on the far corner of the Church wall: “all the biggest lies you have told . . . all the people you would like to kiss deeply . . desires  you have repressed . . . people you would like to see suffer . . .”  To a collage of iconic love songs (by Nina Simone, the Doors, Elvis, the Kinks, to name a few), Cordero carries in and arranges the stuff that fills our lives—boxes, cords, computers, laundry baskets, garbage cans, clips, posters, mops. Then in a stunning shift, she lashes out, ripping them apart, stomping on them, lifting and crashing them to the floor. Facing monster difficulties and perverse joys, she unfurls her fury with an adolescent swagger.

Larissa Velez’s work is also youthful. Holy Now! takes an ironic and amusing look at the parallels between ecstatic religious experiences and dance-making. In Making Ends Meet, Velez creates a fake reality TV competition for herself, replete with personal confessions and her “competition” performance of “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” slyly re-written. Velez’s works are narrowly self-reflective, but her engaging personae and comedic skill keep them skittering to the funny-bone.

Patricia Hoffbauer’s Para-dice (Stage 1) is a playful lecture-performance that veers and swings like a car slightly out of control. Hoffbauer is charismatic, with broad features and long sweeping legs and arms. In her running commentary, she is constantly sidetracked and interrupted by her own thoughts, bits of dancing, her foil and partner (Peggy Gould), and a couple in a parallel reality, performed by George Emilio Sanchez and Elisa Osborne. Alternate worlds intersect as Hoffbauer critiques stereotypes of Brazilian machismo and colonial cultural appropriation, tells stories of a childhood hero, Wilson Simonal (a crooner who turned out to be a sympathizer to the brutal Brazilian dictatorship), and remarks on the films of Brazilian Glauber Rocha, bits of which we see projected. Like a madcap film, all of this material is spliced together. Multiple realities collide, as Sanchez and Osborne bunch up against Hoffbauer and Gould. While Para-dice is great fun to watch, it doesn’t add up to much but does remind us to take nothing for granted.