Redefining Chaos With Jordan Fuchs

Life’s natural entanglements slightly pruned

I beg to differ with Jordan Fuchs about thickets. At least in one sense. He has called his new dance Thicket and the press release for the event refers to the phenomenon as “a chaotic state in nature between the stable states of meadow and forest.” In most of the northeast, a meadow is always endeavoring to become a forest, via a passage through scrubbiness and thickethood. Only determined mowing can keep it stable. And a thicket itself is a site of both apparent chaos and the kind of form that’s not easily discerned.

In another sense, Fuchs has found a perfect title for the illusion of delicate complexity that he has created. What we see and hear in the beguiling collaboration between the choreographer and composer Andy Russ is sparer than most thickets (with only four dancers it would have to be). Yet, as in nature, surprises crop up, patterns come out of hiding, and sounds and imagery become denser. We sit on chairs arranged in a broken ring at the edges of Saint Mark’s wood floor (lit by Carol Mullins with her usually sensitivity). At any time Toby Billowitz, Megan Boyd, Storme Sundberg, and Fuchs may step behind an area of seating and watch the action or move to a new point of entry. Russ’s score, performed live but incorporating pre-recorded material, creates a startling ambiance. Each spectator listens to Russ’s score through headphones (although some sounds are audible to the dancers as cues), situating us in both the dancers’ world and our own private ones. We may hear single, resonant piano notes or the sound of a train or the drowsy chirp of birds, but we also hear the performers panting and previously recorded footsteps that are subtly out of sync with what we’re seeing. The first sound of the evening is a throat being cleared. The headphones bring some of Russ’s effects startlingly near; cawing crows, for example, and a noise that he may be producing by crumpling paper seem to come from about a foot behind me.

Thicket begins quietly. Lying on the floor in bluish light, the four performers pulse, as if trying to travel the way clams do when they open and close their shells. Gradually they rise—now bracing themselves on two hands and one knee, now two hands and two feet. Finally erect, they jiggle stiffly. They’re highly alert. In their patched, ragged, artfully torn garments by Joy Havens, they have the air of animals at a water hole. Their awareness of one another and the way they often stop as if to reconsider remind me that Fuchs is known for using improvisational structures in his works.

Even at its most reckless and energetic, the dancing has an underlying calm intelligence. Fuchs shifts our focus around the intimate arena, increasing the density of what we see and then winnowing images out. While Sundberg performs some big, loose, scoopy movement, the others fall and lie quietly. Billowitz is alone for a brief solo. Moments when two or more performers intersect can be unusual. Billowitz is lying on his side when Sundberg walks up to him and casually jumps onto his hip. Several times all four rush into a formation that looks somewhat like a misfired rodeo stunt: Sundberg, thrust belly down on Billowitz’s bent-over back and Boyd and Fuchs holding her there.

The increasingly complex interactions—the lifts, the pushing and pulling, the shared gestures—create spatial thickets and, by implication, emotional entanglements. But that aspect isn’t stressed either in the choreography or in the performing. We don’t feel alarmed or seduced by these people. They do what they do in their little world, and we watch them thoughtfully and with pleasure from ours.

 
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