Four Journeys

From Old Russia to Dance Heaven

For The Amber Room, Zvi Gotheiner turns the stone basement of an 1849 synagogue (now the Angel Orensanz Foundation) into an art gallery. Lights and voices guide the crowd to cluster—now here, now there—before enigmatic "pictures." The first: A Russian choral march escalates Ying Ying Shiau's magnificent, twisting, assertive dance toward desperation. The last: Christine Wright and Dirk Platzek, seated on a bench, billow softly into embraces—wanting and not wanting to leave their haven. In others of the nine vignettes, a woman is auctioned off and two buddies march to a German drinking song (Malcolm Low keeps getting hurt; Todd Williams cures him—maybe—with ballet exercises).

When we climb the narrow stairs to sit in the synagogue itself, with its beautifully wrecked ornamental wall and brilliant blue ceiling, images that had seemed unrelated fly together. Scott Killian weaves Russian and German songs into his score (the carved panels known as the Amber Room were abducted from Russia by the Nazis, and vanished). As the space fills with shifting linear patterns traced by 14 splendid performers, the gestures and steps that had been particular to the characters in the basement become the movement warehouse for a community. The masterful choreography radiates pride and defiance, and as long as it lasts, that lost artwork seems to reassemble and shine.


Despite the manifestos read, the slogans painted, the singing of the "Internationale," the Cuban tango, the muttered French, and the fallen bodies, Sally Silvers's fascinating Storming Heaven at the Kitchen doesn't come across as a journey through the revolutions of the past 140 years. The piece gains richness from these details, from the black paper scrolls with flourishes of white writing and other bold constructions by artist Antonio Martorell (who's a busy, bearded onstage elf), and from the music and sounds threaded through Bruce Andrews's collage. Silvers's choreographic subject, however, seems to be the fomenting of the revolutionary spirit—the period when it's half-formed, whispered, agonized over. Silvers is an abstract artist, not a storyteller.

When the group of crack Downtown dancers huddles, we glimpse between bodies or beneath clasped hands quick, furtive encounters; a question is asked, a message passed. David Neumann leads the group in a drill, but the steps are quirky and buoyant. While some people lie twitching on the floor, others "guard" them like players waiting for an opponent to get up and be tagged. Men show their muscles in formal patterns. Shoring up a colleague's confidence takes the form of Cydney Wilkes helping Alejandra Martorell to balance on one leg. Wilkes, in a wonderful solo, makes nearly fainting a star turn. Despite all the crashing to the ground, the only permanent sacrifices are the white paper-cutout people Silvers scatters from a bundle and arranges on the floor.


Symphony Space's "Face the Music and Dance" series commissions collaborations between choreographers and composers. And, fellow New Yorkers, isn't it great to have live musicians onstage? Scott Killian's rowdy-sweet score (played and sung by an ensemble of five) is an enormous asset to Danial Shapiro and Joannie Smith's The Routine. So is David Greenspan's multi-voiced narration, with its rhythmic, repetitive wordplay. Building on Shapiro's 1999 solo Shtick, now smartly reworked, the two choreographers create a racing-around potpourri of historic borscht belt entertainment and the sour taste of the failed routine, the failed career. The best parts are the most specific: Shapiro's pratfalls, extravagant gestures, and haunted stares; Smith's weary tabletop finger dance; the cardless card playing; the wonderfully bizarre and fearless adagio act that Susie Bracken and Matthew Janczewski practice while Smith eats her dinner. The Routine—perhaps attempting to mean too much—hasn't fully jelled yet. The dancing, excellently performed, seems unglued—saying "sexy," saying "frantic," but not where or why.

On the same program, Mark Dendy's Jam begins by stroking us, then jolts us. Superb jazz musician Don Byron strolls down the aisle, laying out a velvet melody on his bass clarinet. Then dancers erupt amid the audience, shucking shirts, sticking their sculptured legs into the air.

But Jam isn't gimmicky; it's a terrific "pure" dance (in contrast to Dendy's recent theater pieces), full of juicy movement for Byron's trio to sweeten or prod into fervor. Wearing Bobby Pearce's long, dark-blue silk skirts (plus tops for the women), eight luscious dancers engage in sensual acrobatics that make no gender distinctions. At one point Dendy, using few real tango moves, translates the tango's flick of legs between legs into group patterns, building bridges and pathways to dart through. He makes stillness tighten and release the rhythmic flow and alter the feel of space. (When Ron Todorowski emits a dazzle of movement, Nicole Berger just sits and watches happily.) In Jam's music and dance, illusions of spontaneity and community feather skillfully through artistic control.


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View photographs from Shapiro and Smith Dance

 
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