Dancing on Strings

Similar Themes Surface in Israeli, American, and Australian Choreography

Part surreal vaudeville, part circus, and part toy store after midnight: That's Oyster, brought by the Inbal Pinto Dance Company to the Joyce in late April. When the performers are not controlled by suspended harnesses, leashes, or costumes, they dance as if invisible forces were jerking them around. Yet this creation by the wildly imaginative Israeli team of choreographer Pinto and director Avshalom Pollak avoids the darker implications of control. Oyster is whimsical, a delight for the eye.

The red curtain lifts in scallops to reveal a lit-up proscenium arch and, behind that, in a false back wall, a smaller light-framed opening. Occasionally a third, even smaller curtained "stage" is wheeled on. The performers sport white makeup and spiky blond wigs, except the tall red-wigged Michal Almogi, muzzled by her black turtleneck; the dumpy sixtyish Rina Rosenbaum, dressed like a child clown (spiky gray wig); and Yuval Sussler and Zvi Fishzon, imprisoned in the same giant overcoat, who have to be wheeled on and off for their mime acts, since one is standing on a concealed platform to make him loom above the other.

Two ballerinas in tutus hop like frogs on leashes held by Rosenbaum. Two dance, their wrists connected to their ankles by red ribbons. Edan Gorlicki, wearing a multi-tailed black coat and trousers (the ensemble uniform), manipulates a rope that causes Noga Harmelin to soar over her lover (Gwyn Emberton) or float down into his embrace; in one transcendent moment, she tiptoes along his outstretched arm as if it were a tree branch. Women wearing flesh-colored cloches and curiously wrapped outfits that bare their legs walk on, stiff and hunched: the world's oldest chorus line. The music ranges from opera to tango to pop to Yma Sumac.

Suspended animation: Ermira Goro and Colleen Thomas in Rein, Bellow
photo: Richard Termine
Suspended animation: Ermira Goro and Colleen Thomas in Rein, Bellow

The Siamese twins (separated in the end), Almogi, and Rosenbaum sometimes watch and applaud the acts. We applaud, too—for the wit, the cleverness, and the odd beauty.


In Rein, Bellow, Bill Young and his co-choreographer, Colleen Thomas, also deal with issues of confinement and control. Shown in early April at the Duke, this departure into dance theater doesn't violate the peaceful ambience that's so integral to Bill Young & Dancers' usual non-narrative pieces. The intrepid, loving, and lovable crew have simply entered a surreal world—a shared dream, perhaps—in which they're asked to perform strange tasks and do so without dread. Philip Hamilton's score adds its own matter-of-fact mystery to the mix: whispering, a folk dance, a men's choir. The long, diaphanous white curtains and swags conceived by lighting designer Rick Murray and company dancer Heather McArdle blow slightly in a breeze. Certain events happen only for seconds. The lights change without warning, or go out. At the beginning, Ermira Goro, McArdle, and Thomas pull, laughing, at their skirts or the panels that hang from their broad sashes (costumes by Wendy Winters). Soon after, Goro and Thomas are dangling backward in harnesses, swinging and twisting, their feet still on the floor. Later, there's a knock on the large doors at the rear; Hamilton Monteiro and Pedro Osorio bring in a couple of tables, and the women tell them where to put them. Then Young and Thomas, inert on the tables, are gently manipulated by two others who act in scrupulous unison. From the ordinary to the hallucinatory.

Some tasks are daring, others eccentric. McArdle has to maintain her balance on one low table while it's wheeled around and tilted into a ski slope; Goro must be kept beneath it whatever happens. Osorio and Monteiro attach themselves to opposite ends of ropes thrown up over pulleys, becoming both puppeteers and puppets. One goes down, the other rises. Goro gets her blouse onto a hanger on a clothes rack that holds costume changes, while still wearing the blouse. Then she tries unsuccessfully to walk along pushing the rack while talking about what a great addition to the choreography this act could be.

Another recent work, Bent, set to an insistent score by Mio Morales, is a rich trove of Young's fierce and fluent movement style, in which dives to the floor and into others' arms are not mindless displays of exuberant physicality but the way these people communicate. When McArdle, Osorio, and Marc Mann slide, roll, and vault over, under, and around one another, they're negotiating some intricate business. So are the five (including Tzeni Argyriou) who travel along a diagonal in an intricate cluster, shifting their roles within it. Nothing in Young's works is generalized; the sensuality, the tenderness, the sense of adventure seem intrinsic to the moment and anchored to life.


The extraordinarily gifted Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin treats confinement in another way. In Melt, Ros Warby and Stephanie Lake inhabit a small area, their bodies and psyches responding to climate changes. "Motion graphic designs" by Michaela French throw patterns on them—a grid of ice blocks, snow, flashes of lightning, lava, and so on. The two begin moving in increments, repetitive, frozen; they shiver. As the temperature rises, and Franc Tetaz's subtle score moves from creaking sounds to dripping ones to rumbling and crackling, the women's behavior and their contact with each other become more charged, more complex, but the dance remains spare—every moment elegantly chosen and defined.

In Guerin's brilliant The Ends of Things, confinement becomes the subject of a haunting and haunted narrative. Trevor Patrick is not only imprisoned in a room, he is imprisoned in his own disintegrating body. As he moves through his dreary day, slides are projected onto the walls of designer Dorotka Sapinska's cramped, three-sided room on wheels. The "bedroom" looks startlingly real; in the "kitchen" and "bathroom," the scale is askew. Patrick sleeps, puts on and takes off clothes that now hang on him, drinks tea, pees, performs some task that could be looking at a stamp collection or a photo album; a radio and useless answering-machine pitches link him tenuously with the outside world. Tetaz's score amplifies the sounds keyed to Patrick's activities.

Meanwhile, figures in the dimness outside the house gradually intrude like distorted memories and imaginings. While Patrick rests, we watch Warby and Byron Perry dance effusively, as if at a club, then fight; watch Lake and Perry interlace. Patrick folds his clothes; the two women fold Perry. Eventually the three invade the "house" and shadow Patrick through his day, brush his teeth, look disgusted when he pees; Lake's body becomes his "work." He seems barely aware of them at first; then they hold a wild party and he orders them out. After he undresses and moans himself to sleep, they dismantle the house.

With his refuge open to the wind, Patrick finds new barriers and obstacles: the legs and arms of the others, their embraces. Sometimes, when they freeze, he can safely snuggle against them. The three, standing perhaps for all people once part of his life, are motionless when he leaves them; he's so clumsy and weak that he bumps against a curtain as he exits the stage, and life. Patrick magnificently portrays this man's narrow, drab existence, besieged by what was and might have been.

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