Susan Rethorst: Retro(intro)spective

June 26, 2011

Danspace Project

St. Mark’s Church, NYC

May 9–June 18, 2011

Molly Poerstel, Elisabete Finger, and Naomi Fall (with Susan Rethorst pictured in video) in
208 East Broadway Part 4: SOLD. Photo by Melinda Ring, courtesy Danspace Project.


“Susan Rethorst: Retro(intro)spective”—curated by Melinda Ring for Danspace Project’s PLATFORM 2011—sprawled throughout St. Mark’s Church and all over Danspace’s late-spring calendar. Conceived—and named—with just the right blend of intelligence, tenderness, and cheek, the series included cozy movie nights, five hours of “living room” conversations among artists, an open rehearsal, more rehearsals “wrecked” by invited colleagues like Tere O’Connor, a multimedia installation and, yes, even a dance show here or there. With just a few exceptions, these events were free, and most welcomed visitors to come and go and they pleased.

In a play on the notion of “residency,” the series immersed us in the atmosphere and artifacts of Rethorst’s Lower East Side home/workspace—an apartment she recently sold and would soon vacate. She unloaded a selection of her living room furniture into the church’s sanctuary. When you watched Carl Reiner’s comic film All of Me with Rethorst, you might share her tomato-red sofa, the same sofa where, in another event, dancemakers Ralph Lemon and Yasuko Yokoshi would curl up like cats to trade ideas with poet Bruce Andrews and filmmaker/photographer Babette Mangolte. The sofa would also prove pivotal to one of Rethorst’s latest creations, 208 East Broadway Part 3: Over and Out.

That surreal piece positioned dancers on and around Rethorst’s furniture, fitting human bodies into any available spaces. The dreamy pacing, simple gestures, and everyday objects—a cookie-cutter, seashell, ball, length of ribbon, tile of wood—and sober yet somewhat ritualistic performance combined to create numinous mystery. It’s as if Rethorst could not think of her apartment’s environment and contents without associating each nook and cranny with specific movement ideas and specific bodies, her unfolding creative history. Over and Out ends with a typically unassuming yet dignified, even regal duet between Rethorst and Naomi Fall, the young dancer who, a couple of weeks earlier, more than held her own with the mature Vicky Shick, Iréne Hultman Monti, and Jodi Melnick in a gorgeous revival of Rethorst’s Beau Regard (1989).

208 East Broadway Part 4: SOLD
concluded the series with a multimedia installation inviting visitors to drift around several stations in the church. Each location contained an unexpected treasure, like a jumble of old silverware next to a video-playing iPod, or something we might remember from another part of the series. For instance, a small screen showing a video of the street view from her old apartment had appeared in larger form as a backdrop to Over and Out. Dancers nestled and held poses within each of several stained glass windows. CD players offered a collection of audio tracks—like a reading of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” or the old rockabilly tune “Lonesome Town”—giving tiny, oblique peeks into Rethorst’s musings.

My favorite discovery at SOLD involved a trip to the church balcony where I found a trio of women—I came to think of them as the Moirae—seated on the familiar red sofa beneath a video of Rethorst tucked into that selfsame couch. The video spliced together instances of the choreographer gesturing as she spoke, saying “um” a lot and occasionally blurting funny noises. Synchronized to the video and to one another, the dancers imitated the amusingly mechanized Rethorst to a T, and you could stand and watch this looping, delightfully loopy thing for a long as you wished.

Would the intimate yet multifaceted “Retro(intro)spectiveformat would work well for another mid-career choreographer? Hard to say, and I’m not sure I’d want to see this clever programming patented. Spending quality time within the world and mind of an artist so indirect, even reticent, in her approach to audiences was a rare, intriguing privilege.