Dancing About Architecture

For Sarah Michelson, the Environment Shapes the Work

I have not described even the skeleton of Shadowmann, Part 1, just enough bones so I can speak of its soul—the consciousness Michelson brings to it about style and scale and self-presentation. Just as she works within a given environment, she is hyper-aware of the larger dance-world environment, with its unspoken rules. If the most obvious trespass is the kidwear screaming "Dolce & Gabbana," her reasoning for that explains others: "I'm interested in doing things you're not supposed to do."

Michelson takes a conceptual approach to her work by questioning the basics, such as what makes a good beginning and what constitutes an end, why do performers bow, why do certain kinds of modern dancers wear black (or is it now industrial gray?), why is it all supposed to look effortless ("Fatigue is also a movement quality"), and how are dancers who work on the proscenium different from those who don't.

"I'm interested in doing things you're not supposed to do."
photo: Robin Holland
"I'm interested in doing things you're not supposed to do."

For part of Shadowmann, Part 1, she says, "We were using the idea of grand opera, the European proscenium stage dances, the assumptions that those dances can make about lighting and persona and performance." And what do you need to be a proscenium dancer? "A lot of specificity about who you think you are while you're doing it." (Like: I know you can see me, I'm untouchable, I'm very skilled.) But once she decided to use that persona, she did not want to mock it.

She asked Mike Iveson to make "music for believers, not cynics. Because everything has to be just what it is. I didn't want anything to be 'we're showing you this but really it's that.' "

She has a real outsider perspective on the world in which she's now become successful, but she's just bringing the facts to the surface. Talk about seismic activity.

Those who saw Part 1 have tickets for Part 2, but some seats are still available. Call 212-477-5288. Mori, by Ken Goldberg, Randall Packer, Gregory Kuhn, and Wojciech Matusik, remains at the Kitchen through April 12.

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