Richard Siegal/The Bakery

January 17, 2008

Richard Siegal/The Bakery As If Stranger

Danspace Project, NYC

January 17–19, 2008

Reviewed by Susan Yung

In As If Stranger, Richard Siegal has integrated a number of influences from his years at Ballett Frankfurt under the guidance of William Forsythe. Foremost, in that company of astounding movers, Siegal stood out for a mercuric kineticism as smart as it was clean. Here, in his own solo work, we could focus strictly on his performance. Siegal employs to great effect different media—closed circuit projections of his fidgeting hands, other projections of a huge asymmetrical head, scrolling text (Philip Bussmann designed the projections)—that in theory seem gimmicky, but in practice add a hypnotic mediating layer between live performance and technophilia. The lighting, by Antoine Seigneur-Guerrini, taps a palette of as much darkness as light.

    The show begins in near total darkness, lit only by some illegible projections and monitor lights, with Amaury Groc’s soundscore throbbing in the air. Two adjacent sides of St. Mark’s Church are draped with black; at their intersection, hanging from the choir loft, are two thick, braided ropes of cables. Soon our eyes acclimate to see that Siegal is snaking downstage between the cable clusters—a metaphorical birth. Indeed, his subsequent movement sequences more closely resemble a tadpole’s than a dancer’s. Locomotion is achieved by feeling along the floor with his shoulders, his torso, and the probing metatarsals of his feet. He begins to stand for fleeting moments, folding in half, squatting, walking with heavy footfalls. These evolve into more precise, quick steps that pull away from the ground like ballet. Siegal contorts his body around still-held hands that pretend to hold an object, or snaps his legs sharply like whips, indicating a profound understanding of Forsythe’s choreographic processes. Forsythe’s choreography is one of the most influential styles now, but it is not always rendered with such care and authenticity.

    The droning text piped in earlier scrolls projected on the backdrop. Eric-Maria Couturier plays sonorous tones and jittery scratches on a cello. The pace of projections quickens, at one point funneling cyclone-style into the far corner. Siegal himself now moves at a haywire, destructive pace, gulping air. He pulls the plug on everything, until a charming film with crudely-drawn words spells out, “Throw not away the hero in your soul,” before the letters scatter to the wind. Siegal’s riveting performance plus the pacing, editing, and polished production elements transformed what could have been an overly conceptual exercise into a transfixing work of dance theater.