Who You Callin’ Ugly?

November 2, 2008

Sometimes you can be watching a dance concert and it’s business as usual and then something extraordinary suddenly gets stuck in your eye. This happened to me at Mathew Janczewski’s piece
at Joyce Soho Friday night. The choreography (for about 8 dancers) was pretty rigorous—a blend of contact improv, big modern dance, and gestural posing. I’m not keen on dances of manners, and that’s what the first section, “Baroque—The façade” was. You noticed the Victorian costumes with high collars more than anything else.

Then in Section II, “Disco/Technology: False Reveal,” the dancing got faster and rougher. And suddenly we were deep into a duet between tall brutish Janczewski and small quizzical Galen Treuer. Like many duets these days, it was part sexual and part combative. But they were so raw that it was riveting. They slammed into each other from point blank distances. After a sweaty pause, one would support the other with an odd and surprising hold. They were too close, held too tight, and tossed each other too indifferently. Lots of sexual energy, but also sheer individual determination. It was about some kind of emotional survival.
After this intense thrashing, for the rest of the piece, Treuer’s expression changed to something sad and yet still strong.

The third and final section, “Nature: Comfortable skin/hope” came as a relief. A whole evening of that duet, as exciting as it was, would have been unbearable.

I took the title to mean exorcizing an ugly part of oneself. A program notes says, “The show points to the ugly born of human insecurity and fear within our culture.” Maybe because that main duet was same-sex, it meant to throw some cultural baggage in our faces. But I’m glad that the one-word title did not linger in my brain as I was watching that incredible duet.