Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater

October 9, 2009

Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater
The Guthrie Theater

Minneapolis, MN

October 9–18, 2009

Reviewed by Linda Shapiro

Photo by V. Paul Virtucio, Courtesy Guthrie Theater.


In Stuart Pimsler’s Tales From the Book of Longing, seven performers attempt to capture the elusive ache of yearning. More tone poems than narratives, the 15 vignettes excavate intense emotional states. Screens manipulated by the dancers create a shifting landscape that both conceals and reveals their conflicted seeking. The sophisticated sound design (by Neverwas) mixes poetry by Pimsler and Leonard Cohen with music ranging from the soul sounds of Otis Redding to the spooky folk-based vocals of Antony and the Johnsons.

A familiar postmodern ambiguity pervades much of Tales as fragmented gestures beg for interpretation. An embrace, for instance, can suggest passionate engagement, aggressive maneuvering, or fragile hope, sometimes simultaneously. Equally familiar is the sweeping, breathy flow of classic modern dance, rapturous spills of movement fraught with the tension of unresolved relationships.

But too often Tales leaves us grasping for significance in a roiling sea of charged images.  A section to Redding’s classic “These Arms of Mine” yields plenty of slashing, wheeling arms and clutching hands. But the dancers’ scalloped undulations never really ground into the bluesy texture of the music or mine its melancholy. Throughout the performance, signature poses assume a vague emotional weight. Dancers balance tentatively on one leg, gazing intensely at the floor. Are they lingering? Remembering? Regretting? While dance lends itself to layered intentions, many of these Tales need a more rigorous connection between expressiveness and form.

Pimsler’s skill in shaping dance dramas is most apparent in several multifaceted duets. With a queasy mix of animal playfulness and menace, Laura Selle Virtucio pounds Brian Evans’s chest, gently buts him with her head, straddles him, holds him, circles him warily. It’s as if she’s experiencing both the intensity of their passion and its disintegration. Likewise, Evans and Cade Holmseth grapple in slow motion embraces suggesting both the sculpted elegance of Greco-Roman wrestling and the ghost of an erotic encounter.

A sly duality infects a scene between Pimsler and his longtime life and artistic partner Suzanne Costello. As he advances toward her, gesticulating and muttering gibberish, she calmly orchestrates his tumult by saying things like, “Be a little less funny, yeah, just a little sad. But not too sad.” It’s as if a verbose Samuel Beckett character came striding into a carefully calibrated Harold Pinter drama. Here are individuals engaged in a witty and sinister power play that seems both highly personal and universal. As in all of these evocative duets, the actions are clear, the motives richly complex.