Nuts in May

From Martha to Hip-Hop—New Yorkers, It’s All Ours!

The single evening at City Center was entitled "Indisputably Martha Graham." As the legal battle over who actually owns Graham's works winds down, there's no doubt that the dances presented were hers—grand, lofty artworks unlike anything seen before or since—and that the dancers were "hers," trained in her technique and (some of them) exposed to her power while she lived.

Several generations of Graham dancers studded the audience (sadly missing: one important former company member, David Wood, recently deceased). If the crammed house was any indication, ticket sales and the post-performance fundraising celebration more than covered expenses. When the curtain went up on Seraphic Dialogue, Saint Joan's three guiding saints in their golden Noguchi cages had to freeze for an age because we were applauding so hard. Who owns these dances? We do! Admittedly there were flaws, but the company—off the stage for too long—put on a glorious evening. As the central Joan, Terese Capucilli started off understandably tense, but by her second solo, she was magnificent, embodying the visions and battles of the other Joan aspects, refracting them all through her dancing. Christine Dakin (with Capucilli an artistic coordinator of the company) acted a finely nuanced Jocasta in Night Journey, with the excellent assistance of Kenneth Topping, Gary Galbraith, and Alexandra Prosperi (also outstanding as Joan the Warrior).

The evening's novelty was a revival of Embattled Garden (1958), in which Adam and Eve (Tadej Brdnik and Miki Orihara) are set upon by Elizabeth Auclair as Adam's first wife, Lilith (she didn't make it into the Bible), and Christophe Jeannot, fiercely predatory as the Stranger. Fine, white-hot performing from all. To Carlos Surinach's vibrant music, the four in their Spanishy costumes prowl Noguchi's bright-colored conversation pit of a set or climb its laddering tree. The wise woman and the savvy outsider direct their erotic wiles toward the innocent first couple. Ancient myth meets suburban key party, and guilt parries awakening delight.

Smooth moves: Najib Guerfi and Bintou Dembele in Compagnie Käfig’s Dix Versions
photo: Pete Kuhns
Smooth moves: Najib Guerfi and Bintou Dembele in Compagnie Käfig’s Dix Versions

The program also featured a late-Graham bit of erotica ("Conversation of Lovers" from Acts of Light, danced by Katherine Crockett and Martin Lofsnes) and "Steps in the Street" from the 1936 Chronicle (ironically reconstructed to music Wallingford Riegger wrote for Graham's rival Doris Humphrey). The latter, a thunderous work from the early uncompromising days of modern dance, makes your spine tingle: so many strong women on the march—powerful, dedicated, beautiful.

The evening's unexpressed thought: Let this choreography, too, march on.


It's all in the program—how Marcus Antonius was a stalwart fellow, but also a debauchee who screwed up royally when Caesar left him in charge of Rome. Losing the sea battle of Actium, he turned tail, leaving his troops in the lurch. And then there was his power-hungry sweetie, Cleopatra. Karinne Keithley is not only an extremely interesting choreographer; she's a history buff.

In Keithley's Islander at Galapagos May 9 and 10, Antony is still alive after 2033 years. He (Keithley) sits alone in a lighthouse, gazing at the sea as the centuries pass, and reviewing his life as he reads accounts of it (scurrilous! wrong!) in books deposited every hundred years or so by a pigeon (the wonderful Paul Matteson). Actually, Antony finally realizes, the bird is his ancestor Hercules in disguise. This sly, wry, homespun production features excellent incidental music by Jude Webre and projections by, I guess, lighting designer Martin Stevenson. Melissa Briggs, Sara Procopio, Shoshana Hoffert, and Mindy Nelson make repeated entrances as a highly individualized Greek chorus—sometimes as four crows (their T-shirts say so) who chatter and wing about and balance precariously in a flock, yelling out remarks like "Windy today!"

Supposedly what we see is all the work of Antony. Keithley sits writing at a little desk, switching on a lamp when she wants to talk to us. Fragments of history slip in obliquely. After Matteson (billed as Harlequin) has whipped through some of Keithley's inventive, cockeyed movement, eyeing the space distrustfully, the four women stagger in, lean on the back wall, and retch extravagantly (Antony vomiting in the senate after a night on the town?). As the centuries creep by, a decorous court dance intrudes. Keithley too dances—an unsteady approximation of Matteson's solo, and a duet with him at the 1837 mark, in which she wears a military jacket and he pushes her up the wall with one hand. What else? Hoffert also appears in a pigeon head made of duct tape. Keithley and Nelson stand at mics and harmonize sweetly. I wouldn't mind seeing Islander again right now.


In Tere O'Connor's works, form and content jostle each other. The dancers performing his new Winter Belly and the 2001 Choke (at Danspace St. Mark's last week) form circles, contrapuntal ranks, and unison advances, but their movements—lush, beautiful dancing coupled with odd gestures displaced from reality—strain against that formality, those known structures. At one point in Winter Belly, the performers emerge from a bout of movement and stand licking their wrists while O'Connor dances; when he joins them, they all explode into vigorous motion again. Another time, Caitlin Cook stops and opens her mouth in a silent cry, her hands framing her chin. Justin Jones and Erin Gerken watch, then take her arms and sort of smooth them forcefully down, almost as if unrolling a sleeve. A moment like this has no consequences. It's followed by a bit of London Bridge, some weird sexy behavior. Then the two smile at us while batting Cook, stiff as a board, rapidly back and forth between them, and they all move on.

For Winter Belly, O'Connor edges the performing space with bare blue-green trees, frostily lit by Brian MacDevitt. James Baker's audible winter landscape fits the choreography so perfectly moment by moment that you can imagine music and dance being composed at the same time. As the piece begins, O'Connor is on the floor, rolling and thrashing, while Chrysa Parkinson, Heather Olson, Luis DeRobles Tentindo, and the others stand in a circle watching him. The whole work has the atmosphere of a hushed winter world, disturbed by sudden eruptions of human discord and branches crashing onto ice.

O'Connor uses the full resources of the body; his steps are complex, demanding, often very fast. In Choke, however, he has created phrases out of "ordinary" (sometimes very un-ordinary) gestures seen on the street, splicing them together, repeating them until they begin to look strange, obsessive. If one person does a "get lost!" hand wave, mouthing the words, it's New York life; if three do it together, it's a lost planet. Here the scenery is a four-tiered horizontal drape of filmy white cloths, and McDevitt's lighting is harsh white. Baker's score again sensitively underlines the movement. Fascinating as it is, this dance feels long. It keeps threatening to end, but those gestures continue to multiply like orderly viruses.


It was bound to happen: the art-ification of hip-hop; those headspins and kinked-leg handstands were too enthralling just to hang out on street corners. Doug Elkins incorporated break-dance moves into postmodern dance, and the style figures in the French Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu's charming circuses; Rennie Harris gives it a political cast. B-boy groups abound in France. Compagnie Käfig's Dix Versions, co-produced by Dance Theater Workshop at the Joyce last week, Pilobolizes hip-hop. The raw, competitive form that grew up in the projects surrounding French cities among a population largely from North Africa becomes sleek, well behaved, and subject to theatrical magic. Under artistic director Mourad Merzouki's choreographic guidance, Käfig's nine charming and virtuosic dancers (all male but Bintou Dembele), wearing white jumpsuits, dance in unison, in antiphonal squads, and with filmed doubles on three hanging panels. (The stop-go rhythms and freezes of popping and locking lend themselves to counterpoint.) Three guys conceal their heads in hanging Japanese lanterns (very elongated, the better to focus our attention on their uncannily rippling arms). At one point, four play a magician's trick with three boxes, turning themselves into one super-long person and a sawed-apart one. Video designer Pierre Jacob has Dembele's image slide down a panel; when she hits the floor and disappears, the real Dembele pops out from behind.

One problem: The vocabulary is basically small. You see almost all of it in the first few minutes. To sustain an evening, Käfig needs effects. Poetry by Nati'K is heard ("What is our job in this universe?") and occasional choral effusions in the music of Franck II Louise and Noël Kay (Kapoudjaian) soften the powerful beat. Yoann Tivoli's lighting creates poetic moments. Merzouki keeps the piece moving and shrewdly showcases the dancers' specialties. Super-flexible Hafid Sour can practically detach his head from his shoulders. Kareem Beddaoudia does multiple pirouettes on his head. Tubby Julio "Klown" Santiago offers comedic charm and a formidable dancing belly. (One of the brightest dance passages is a brief trio for Santiago, Sour, and Najib Guerfi.) You not only admire the performers' skill; you get very attached to all of them.


This will be my last column for a while. Except for three weeks in mid season, I'll be on leave from the Voice until October. While I try to finish a book, this page will feature other voices. Have a dance-filled summer!

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