By Jennifer Krasinski
By James Hannaham
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By R.C. Baker
What do a roller skate, a birthday-cake hat, three potatoes, two surveillance mirrors, five washtubs, 12 woks, and a block of ice have in common? All of them will appear at the Joyce beginning Tuesday, as part of the annual "Altogether Different" series, a three-week festival that brings the diversity of Downtown dance onto a proscenium stage.
Each of the seven companies chosen for this gig gets a sweet deal: three performances presented by the Joyce with complete technical and marketing support, a grant to produce new work, and seminars in areas like management and fundraising, all intended to bring these troupes wider renown. For many of the artists, though, the joy of the experience is the Joyce itself.
"There aren't a lot of opportunities for us to see our work on a proscenium stage in New York," says Neil Greenberg, whose company performs January 15, 20, and 23. "To suddenly see the work theatricalizedis really exciting." Greenberg will show This Is What Happened, which debuted last spring at P.S. 122, followed by its new sequel (called, aptly, Sequel). Set to music by Bernard Herrmann from Hitchcock films, the two works play with suspense as a way of exciting curiosity and engaging the audience in a search for meaning. Greenberg wants his work to open doors into dance.
"I really have a sense that most audiences don't know how to see a dance. They haven't been helped," he explains. "There are ways of guiding them so that they can have a really great experience watching danceand not just the 'happy dance.' " To this end, he often uses projected text, flashing commentary on the backdrop while the dance goes on below (in This Is What Happened, one supertitle tells us: "Don't believe her, she's lying"). His interest in guiding the audience, he says, "probably comes from years of being in Merce's company and feeling really strongly about the work, but knowing that the audiences [outside the dance community] didn't have a way in. That discrepancy has guided me as a choreographer."
Also interested in drawing more people are Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig, whose world premiere, HereAfter, plays January 19, 26, and 27. The work, an exploration of people's relationship with death, features video, text, live music by Robert Een, and a medley of unusual props (woks and ice among them) as it plumbs the issue of death.
"Not just death as in somebody dropping their body," Pearson says, "but other kinds of death, like when an idea dies, or your passion for your art dies. Or what happens when your connection to someone dies."
Like many of the company's recent projects, HereAfter was developed through site-specific community work.
"After a lifetime of working in a very small subcultureexperimental modern dancewe wanted to open up the circle of who gets involved, both in the watching of it and in the doing of it," Pearson says. The company has ventured to such places as Calcutta, Nebraska, Maine, and Switzerland, and worked with a diverse range of people (including, in Calcutta, rickshaw drivers). Their projects invite local participants to share storiesabout grandparents, about change and decisions, and most recently about deaththat prove to be, as Pearson notes, "windows into one person, into a family, into a culture." HereAfter includes many such stories, presented live and on video, and the company invites the Joyce audience to share their own tales after the performance.
Seattle's 33 Fainting Spells, performing Tuesday and January 13 and 14, brings a different sort of story: a dark and absurdist blend of history and fantasy called Sorrow's Sister. Set in World War II Europe, the piece delves into the strange world of three isolated sisters. "I always think of these women as holding out. The rest of the village has been evacuated, and they're still there," says choreographer Dayna Hanson.
Yoshiko Chuma and the School of Hard Knocks, who perform January 18, 22, and 23, also deal with women and war in Footprints of War, revised and shortened since its premiere last spring at the Kitchen. Footprints, which looks back at WW II in Japan, was the first time Chuma "talked about Japan directly" in her 24 years as a choreographer, she says. She takes on her native land again in Reverse Psychology: Agenda One: Japan, a world premiere that explores questions of cultural identity.