Talking Dance

January 3, 2001

Blondell Cummings gets comfortable in Just a Coupla Boomers Sitting Around Chillin.
Photo by Tom Brazil

Talking Dance

The Kitchen
New York, New York

January 3?February 1, 2001

Reviewed by Wendy Perron

Wacky hostessing is all the rage downtown, and The Kitchen’s Talking Dance series lucked out with Lucy Sexton and Anne Iobst, known as the DanceNoise duo. A highlight of the club scene in the 1980s, they now perform separately?at this weekend of dance with text, Sexton appeared as “The Factress” and Iobst as “The Naked Lady.” Sexton’s fearless and brilliant patter was offset by her new sidekick, the platinum-wigged Vendetta “Asparagus” K. Starr, singing dreamily. Every entrance saw Sexton in different outlandish gear, including one outfit comprised of a pith helmet, a frying pan strapped to her bare chest, and a scalloped leather miniskirt. The Naked Lady occasionally wafted through, lending a certain stark elegance to the proceedings. Dean Moss curated the show, the first of two, which bristled with history.

The first “act” was Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film of Trisha Brown’s solo, Accumulation with Talking plus Water Motor. The film beautifully captured Brown’s swooping momentum while splicing together two dances and two spoken stories. She maintained a radiant countenance throughout. As the camera rolled, members of her company entered the studio and watched her dance. Fifteen years later, these very dancers are now illustrious figures?Stephen Petronio, Vicky Shick, Iréne Hultman, Lance Gries, and Diane Madden. The film is poetic proof of her influence on them.

In Just a Coupla Boomers Sitting Around Chillin, Blondell Cummings danced to recordings of middle-aged women talking about things like how it feels to look at one’s aging face in the mirror every morning. Cummings danced the underneath of it, the subterranean tumult, combining edgy little jumps with mysterious hand gestures. These repetitive jumps were light, yet earthbound, and so sharply performed that they tugged at your heart. Cummings, a former photographer, can freeze motion in startling ways. Like an eerie still-life painting, she gazed out at the audience while holding a coffee mug during a film which zoomed in on women’s undulating torsos. Later, she strode across the space, alternately proud and weary. In this case, the performer’s deeply affecting presence far outweighed the words we heard.

Ann Carlson reprised The Dog Inside the Man Inside from her 1988 Animal Series. Sharing the stage with Carlson was a dog, a plot of fake grass, and an American Sign Language signer. Carlson is a supreme fragmenter. One second she was telling the dog to lie down, and the next she was rushing around obsessively. One second she was scratching her leg as though she were a dog, and the next she was tossing her limbs askew while muttering about the garbage. Her ability to instantly change gears is amazing, not just for its skill but also for its pathos. Equally moving was her thinking out loud about casual acquaintances. “Dear Sally, Remember the time . . . ” “Dear Richard, I can’t understand why you got such a bad review . . . ” “Dear Wendy, I think of you sitting in that circle . . . ” Enough members of the audience were invoked in these mental letters to suggest that the text was improvised for the occasion, a tantalizing blurring of the separation between performer and audience.

Valda Setterfield, wearing satiny coral pajamas, performed David Gordon’s Short History, based on work from 1972 and 1978. With her elegant British accent, she plunked Shakespearean phrases into a movement phrase of ordinary gestures, showing how thoroughly what we hear colors what we see. Elsewhere in the text, Gordon ingeniously linked word phrases and made witty plays on words and gestures. This solo was almost a primer of the Setterfield/Gordon oeuvre, taking us back to a kind of ABCs of talking dance.

Yvonne Rainer’s Talking Solo, derived from her 1963 Terrain and now excerpted from her After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, was performed by Michael Lomeka of White Oak Dance Project. He recited a Nabokov essay on the transformation of a pupa to a butterfly while executing movement that seemed cut and pasted together, but occasionally hinted at a wriggling caterpillar or a struggling butterfly. The task for Lomeka, a sturdy and engaging performer, was to intercut seemingly arbitrary movement with occasional funny bits, like a Chaplinesque walk, and all the while deliver a cogent scientific lecture.

Douglas Dunn and his longtime partner Grazia Della-Terza danced his duet Aerobia, accompanied by a wry self-effacing text by the playwright Jim Neu. The gentle absurdity of the script was perfect for Dunn’s impulsive, brainy stage character. He danced alone to a recording of his own voice, then Della-Terza danced alone to her voice. Then they shared the space, then spoke themselves. The text, with its sly and amusing questioning of the nature of the self in society, kept them at a distance from each other.

The deliberate simplicity and disengagement of the last three pieces provided insight into the nature of experimentation in the 1960s and ’70s. One took an intellectual delight in these performance conundrums, whereas the effect of Cummings and Carlson’s work and the Demme/Brown film was more emotional.