Sarah Skaggs Dance

February 1, 2013

Sarah Skaggs Dance brought Get Out of the House! to New York’s public playgrounds.
Photo by John Gabarini, courtesy Sarah Skaggs

Sarah Skaggs Dance

Sara Delano Roosevelt Park,
New York

September 7, 21, and 28

Reviewed by Jody Sperling

Sarah Skaggs set her Get Out of the House to begin at dusk, outdoors, on a basketball court in New York’s Lower East Side. Her “stage” was theatrically illuminated with floodlights, while her “backdrop” was an urban park scene?kids dribbling and shooting hoops. At first, the two worlds of street and stage easily co-existed. The dancers (Jae Gruenke, Jeremy Laverdure, Kathi McGowan, and Brittany Reese) entered chasing each other, bounding this way and that. A basketball strayed into the space, but was quickly retrieved. The dancers kept pace with the music?a propulsive techno mix by Gary Pozner of the Chemical Brothers’ “Block Rockin’ Beats” and “Dig Your Own Hole”?with quick footwork, skips, and whipping spins. Despite the music, and occasional hip articulations, Skaggs’s movement idiom was not “street”; it was clearly modern dance. The dancers mostly held their bodies upright, letting their limbs swing and slice the air, as they moved through space in clearly defined orbital patterns, reminiscent of Lucinda Childs’s choreography.

Skagg’s strict structure, however, existed in an unpredictable world. The dance’s driving energy attracted the attention of a red-sweatshirted man who bobbed and grooved with the beat as he meandered uncomfortably close to the action. A vigilante bystander, perhaps fearing that this onlooker would interfere with the dance, suddenly charged across the stage and forcefully shoved him out of view. It was a distracting episode that later repeated and nearly broke out into a fistfight. The dancers, though, never missed a beat. There was a virtuosity in their persistence and tirelessness.

The incident seems related the palpable edginess of the city since the September 11 attacks. More attuned to the dangers in life, we couldn’t even relax to watch a dance performance on a lovely fall evening. But Get Out of the House kept going. There was a slow section in which the dancers formed a tableaux of balances and curled-over shapes. There was more rhythmic propulsion through the space. At the end, the four dancers approached the audience and squatted with open palms in a kind of bow. Overall, though, there was a sameness to the choreography that diminished its effectiveness. It meant to be a high-powered, abstract meditation. Perhaps the gloom in the air took off the edge of fun. After the performance, the music stayed on for a dance party, but the court stayed empty. No one seemed to feel much like dancing.