Good Things in Black Boxes

Humanity in Geometry, Hell in Miami, and Dancing With Shadows

The resonant Point A to Point B (You Can't Get There From Here) pokes fun at the business of roadside directions-givers, with vivid video scenes of helpful people describing impossible routes and laying out streets with emphatic hands. At one point, their faces are projected onto Bridgman's bare back, even his face, as if he were turning into a map of contradictory instructions. "I think we're lost," says Packer early on, as the two dance while rubbing live mics against their bodies (I'm not sure why). Gradually, the remarkable and engaging work becomes not just a clever satire but a metaphor for a couple's life journey.

Their new Seductive Reasoning uses a variety of devices and sinuous movements to suggest the disguises and personal visions that shape a relationship. This is a suite of enticing little episodes, set to a wonderful composition by Robert Een for cello, voice, guitar, and percussion (Een and his cello in the flesh, the last two on tape). For instance, Packer dances in front of a pink screen, while a video camera and a projector manipulate her rosy image into a series of smaller and smaller Myrnas that finally circle around a glowing iris, as if to be sucked into a white hole. Then Bridgman dances with Packer's life-size projected image and she with his, the two couples in perfect sync. He then stands in profile, merging and separating from a "self" that's suddenly clad in a white skirt, then in other outfits (the image keeps diving into the real Art as if he's a clothes closet). Finally, wearing a dark suit, he's ready to join his partner (now in heels and a sexy dress) for more transformative games. At some point, five Robert Eens appear on an upended mattress. Wish he could play me to sleep.

Amid all the magic, it was nice, in Cups, to see Bridgman and Packer sit down to supper with their seventh-grade son, Davy Bridgman Packer, and make rhythmic family byplay with plastic cups, their hands, and the table.

Shadow play: Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer at Joyce Soho
photo: Hiroyuki Ito
Shadow play: Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer at Joyce Soho

SPECIAL TO THE WEB: Leigh Witchel is an amateur of ballet—that is, a lover and a devotee. He attends countless performances, he writes about ballet (excellently), and he also makes dances. His showing of three ballets at the Guggenheim was part of the museum’s illuminating Works & Process series. This particular program, which included a conversation between Witchel, New York City Ballet principal dancer Peter Boal, Witchel dancer Mary Carpenter, and dance critic and historian Nancy Reynolds, appealed to balletomanes (especially Boal fans) and educated potential ones.

Boal, as I said when writing of his recent program at the Joyce, can make just about any choreography look wonderful. In two solos, A Shropshire Lad (2000) and Midare (2001), Witchel has been sensitive to Boal’s gifts: his emotional range, his prowess, and his serenity. Both create the aura of memory and meditation that probably entered ballet with Jerome Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering. In the more compelling earlier dance, to George Butterworth’s settings of parts of A.E. Housman’s "A Shropshire Lad," Boal wanders in, stares at the softly lit space, drops his jacket, and begins slow, pensive balances. As the words ("When I was one and twenty . . . ") suggest, Boal’s dancing becomes springier, more ebullient. Yet between virtuosic bursts, he continues to walk and contemplate.

He also wanders into Midare and stands briefly, watching Masayo Ishigure as she sits beneath the arch of Matthew Mohr’s handsome, irregularly pleated white fabric hanging, plucking Yatsuhashi Kengyo’s music from her koto. Here, too, Boal is grave, as if drawing the dancing out of the music and all it evokes. A slow rond de jambe becomes a tool for sharpening his awareness; a fast passage erupts from a slow balance like a striking idea.

The ambience of both these ballets—the first a reappraisal of exuberant youth, the second more quietly thoughtful—licenses the choreographer to make sudden changes, for instance the huge leap in Shropshire that comes out of calm walking like youth’s last gasp. But Witchel’s 1996 Word Become Flesh for four women (Carpenter, Sarah LaPorte Folger, Morgan Friedman, and Christina Paolucci) also gives the impression that he thinks less in terms of phrases than of steps. Certainly the steps flow together, but it’s hard to grasp a larger movement logic. It’s also hard to understand his drift in this work, and to relate the women to Mohr’s set piece, which looks like a clump of picket fencing twisted and burned black, or to the selections of early church music. The women—wearing soft slippers rather than pointe shoes—draw into circles, reach, pose. Each has an earnest solo moment. It’s clear that Witchel has an idea, but it doesn’t quite become flesh.

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