Walter Dundervill

February 16, 2011

Walter Dundervill // Dance Theater Workshop, NYC // February 16–19, 2011 // Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Left to right: Tyler Ashley, Penelope Margolis, and Patricia Beaman in
Aesthetic Destiny 1: Candy Mountain. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu, courtesy DTW.

 

There are some dance troupes and works that are quite easy to grasp, pluck apart, and consume. But sometimes you can imagine a choreographer gazing past your face and waving at something that might be behind you—something you can’t see and perhaps can’t easily reach. I felt a bit like that as I watched Walter Dundervill’s new ensemble piece, Aesthetic Destiny 1: Candy Mountain.


Dundervill is one of New York’s most revered contemporary dance performers (particularly for his work with RoseAnne Spradlin). Although he does not join the dancers who populate this work, he contributes not only choreography and direction but also text, costumes, and set design, conjuring a distinct world out of mere space.


“This is how it was, when it was, at all times on Candy Mountain,” read Dundervill’s program notes. “Things happened and, of those things, many things remain.”  A few more sentences follow but, as clues go, that’s about as direct as this artist is going to get.


Audience members arrive to find action in progress—Dundervill arranging colorful geometric constructions—before the houselights go down. Amusingly, those items get carted off before the troupe of a dozen men and women gathers to begin in earnest.


They lay their bodies down in an even starburst pattern. Legs point outward like tentacles; heads encircle a pool of white light. It’s like watching the reenactment of a creation myth. In precise unison, they roll over; they draw their knees up; they clap and open their legs. Now standing, they twirl and scatter around the stage under Carrie Wood’s hallucinatory lighting, kicking their legs out and resembling a school group of rather grim, if obedient, little fairies, all of whom left home without being properly dressed by their moms. They produce lengths of neon ribbons from their abdomens, rolled out as if it were spider’s silk. They stride around the stage, releasing the bindings of their garments; pieces of clothing drop away and create wonderful splatters of color on the floor. Other things happen. Other things remain.


“I think we’ve gone as far as we can,” says one. “Is it what you expected?” another answers. “Let’s go,” says a third.  “Too late,” the previous speaker concludes.


Funny (as in odd, not laughable) insights can suddenly arise in the watcher. For instance, this one: Dancers don’t just make things (that is, movement) onstage, they can function as erasers. (Unfortunately, I can’t recall what sparked this thought.) Or this one: Candy Mountain? Artificially sweetened, for sure. Or this one: If Dundervill were to take a kaleidoscope, wave a magic wand over it, and transform its tiny sparkly specks into human bodies, this is what might result. Each dancer operates as a moving piece with about as much expressiveness as one would expect from a kaleidoscope’s innards.


I was both charmed (visually) and alienated (personally). I was a little sad, too. But that’s okay. Perhaps Dundervill intended sadness. Who knows?

 


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