Jodi Melnick and Vicky Shick dance Susan Rethorst’s Behold Bold Dog Sam.
Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery
New York, New York
January 31?February 3, 2002
Reviewed by Chris Dohse
Susan Rethorst’s Behold Bold Sam Dog began in stripped-down simplicity: five female dancers in back-to-basic pants and pullovers engaging in straightforward, overlapping duets and trios, mostly in silence. A refreshing anachronism in a time of hybrids and cross-pollination, this looked like well-crafted, old-fashioned, 1980s dance exploration. Then these spare elements slowly wove a dreamlike spell. From its compositional structure to the details of its gesture-rich vocabulary, the work became a pleasure of oddness and non sequitur, filled with its choreographer’s inscrutable intelligence.
Rethorst studied at Bennington with Judith Dunn and spent two decades in the vanguard of New York City’s downtown dance boom before relocating to Amsterdam in 1995. She designs careful careful, direct phrases, and she allowed her dancers (Erin Fitzgerald, Taryn Griggs, Jodi Melnick, Sarah Perron, and the incomparable Vicky Shick) to perform them with the ease of improvisation, as if they were making them up as they went along. Individual cadences contained complex shifts of intention and energy, and the dancers’ attention to detail recalled the multiple tensions required in knitting.
A duet danced by Shick and Melnick was interspersed throughout the first half of the short, forty-five-minute piece with a sort of recurring chorus, when the “Waltz 2” section of Shostakovich’s schmaltzy 1938 Jazz Suite suddenly blared and Fitzgerald, Griggs, and Perron took precise places. Against the church’s elegantly lit wooden floor, the dancers’ articulate bodies carried on fully inhabited conversations, among their own several parts and against each others’ bodies. They didn’t quite waltz, in a not-quite deadpan. Specificity of hand and foot gestures, the relationship of thumb to finger, followed an inaccessible logic.
Halfway through the dance, Rethorst entered like a grande dame to survey the proceedings and pranced methodically around the perimeter of the space. The preparatory bars of the waltz seemed to call the chorus to their places, but Shostakovich was replaced by a fragment of the Beatles’s “Come Together.” The Shick/Melnick duet recurred, as the stage got busier with entrances and exits and the entire group occasionally crossed paths. Just the right amount of repetition mapped interior symmetries.
In a final sextet, dancers paired up and appeared to measure each other, placing their hands like slide rules against body parts. Only in these final moments did a subtext for the dance suggest itself. Was the dance “about” society’s strictures on the body? Melnick then took the stage for a solo sequence, repeated twice verbatim to the entirety of “Come Together.” This repetition seemed like the act of a perverse will, a disciplinary sentence, the caprice of a disturbing intellect.
Behold Bold Sam Dog
, like its Dada-esque title, resisted interpretation and left a lingering mystery. Discreet phrases of movement within the work, performed wholly for their own sake, formed curious correspondences, like fine poetry, and established ephemeral relationships. The piece’s cumulative, illogical oddity fit itself perfectly.