The Tender Touch

Four companies celebrate in our city the 100th birthday of an English master choreographer


Kimberly Bartosik
Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church
June 24 through 27

Are we indoors or outside? Some of the spectators sit on fake grass or white benches to take in Kimberly Bartosik's I sat down on the bank the grass was damp a little then I found my shoes wet. Roderick Murray's beautiful, shadowed lighting strikes the arches in St. Mark's Church like beams of late-afternoon sun, and we hear crickets shrilling, frogs, distant thunder, and falling rocks in the score by Murray and Bartosik. The church architecture seems itself, yet not itself.

Bartosik is first seen in silhouette on the high balcony that runs around three sides of the space, laying her leg along the rail, studying the scene below, and walking away into darkness. Daniel Squire backs in through the entrance doors, limned in light. Derry Swan slides down one of the carpeted risers where the audience often sits for other events. During the course of the performance, Bartosik rushes toward one of the side doors, pursued just so far by Squire. Swan mounts steps at one side and waits, framed against a stained-glass window, before venturing between the benches and the rear portion of the audience. In all these quiet, watchful actions, it's as if the church has been superimposed on a glade and we see both at the same time.

These forays and the resultant spatial illusions are the most compelling elements of the piece. But in Bartosik's choreography these splendid dancers seem to be encountering one another in the course of private voyages of discovery, and finding what they can do together. There is a lot of alert stillness. The two women lounge decoratively side by side in twin poses to watch Squire travel backward the length of the church with big thrusts and circles of his legs. Sometimes he stares at them.

The movement style is what you might expect, given a choreographer who spent nine years dancing for Merce Cunningham, plus two colleagues from the same company. That is, it's basically erect in stance and diligent in its footwork, and it emphasizes the body's long lines, but the performers, as with the best Cunningham dancers, often extend the reach of the steps until they beguilingly risk clumsiness to gain humanity. The quiet moments where various of the three rest, or prowl as if pushing through underbrush, balance the strenuous, all-out dance passages. Yet, the end—when Bartosik is about to leave by one of the side doors and reaches back toward Squire, while Swan, approaching the main entrance, starts to rewind her steps—reinforces the notion that we've seen not just virtuosic dancing, but an adventure that stirs these people's blood.

Guest artist Kathryn Sanders opened the program with a solo of her own, Loric Espials. Sanders, especially familiar to dancegoers for her performing in the Wally Cardona Quartet, is an arresting-looking woman—tall, fair-skinned, dark-haired, and very long of limb, with a coolness that can contrast interestingly with passionate action. Loric Espials is not very passionate, although in its striking opening sequence Sanders is draped back over a structure by Joseph Cairo that resembles an unbalanced pile of pieces of slate, and surrounded by a piercing hum and low growl (music by Vickie Mishoulam "utilizing Bernhard Günter"). She looks uncomfortable but somehow abandoned, as if she, like a lizard, were used to relaxing on this rocky bed. Then she sits up and looks us over. As the curious title suggests, she seems throughout the dance to be spying on us from within a protective carapace—slightly capricious, carefully alluring, always aware of what we might be thinking. I sense an idea that the choreography doesn't fully expose.

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