Apply Polish Sparingly

Martha Graham's Heritage Strides On

What do Last Year at Marienbad and the New York subways have in common? I wouldn't have thought anything until I saw hindsight. Both have been mentioned as sources for this collaboration between choreographer-dancer Vicky Shick and visual artist Barbara Kilpatrick. Although Alain Resnais's elegant, bleak film builds silences you could drown in and a subway ride is a cluttered, clattering affair, they both deliver enigmas. We will never know whether the man on the E train with his head on his neighbor's shoulder is her son or her lover, what those two girls are whispering, why that woman has dressed her child (if it is her child) in yellow ruffles this winter day.

Wearing black and delicately lit by Carol Mullins, Shick, Juliette Mapp, and Meg Wolfe stand scribbling on the air with their hands, making sharp gestures, and looking like calligraphy stroked onto the white, stitched panels Kilpatrick has hung in Danspace St. Mark's. Yasuko Yakoshi sits on a black stool, jiggling parts of her body. Shick pensively lifts her arms. In the distance, Rocky Bornstein begins to jiggle. When she sits, Wendy Perron enters and slowly rubs her face down Bornstein's back, then sits on her lap.

We see these incidents again. And others. See two women nuzzle each other or whisper together. See Yakoshi pick something up and slip it into her pocket. Seated, Shick and Perron immerse their arms in glass bowls of water. At times, the women don Kilpatrick's strange carapaces or hard, white hats tall as medieval hennens.

The dancing—full and supple, yet quiet—also seems unknowable, but it's so clear, so beautifully modeled and performed, that we simply drink it in, mysteries and all.

I first saw Indrani perform at Jacob's Pillow in 1960. Tall, slender, radiantly beautiful, she presented not only Bharata Natyam that summer, but dances in India's Kuchipudi and Orissi styles. Back then, many of us had never even heard of these. Like her mother, Ragini Devi, a moving force in the renascence of Indian classical dance, Indrani was a pioneer.

Later, based in New York for much of every year, she danced, lectured, taught, and sponsored other performers. Indian dancers tend to be territorial. Not Indrani. I'd pick up the phone and hear her lilting voice explain that a splendid exponent of the such-and-such style was in town for a while, and she'd just arranged a little showing in someone's studio. Many Asian dancers owe their New York reputations to her.

When we met, she was often on the run, slightly out of breath, always merry, always gracious. She was so full of life that to have that life sud denly ended by stroke is shocking. Luckily, spirits like hers don't disappear; they linger in our memories and fortify us.

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