The Psychic Stripteases of nicholas leichter dance and Foofwa d'Imobilité

A male ballet star performing a classical solo looks like a happy fellow ("For you, this turn, this nice big leap!"). A solo made and executed by a modern dancer tends to show you one mixed-up dude ("Let me dissect this trauma, this peculiar little adventure, for you"). My arguable generalization was prompted by two pieces that I saw on successive nights—both of them the work of dancer-choreographers who may or may not call themselves postmodern: Foofwa d'Imobilité and Nicholas Leichter. The former appeared in an evening-long display, the latter in a brief solo that ended a program of dances by his company.

Leichter is a New Yorker. His personal style mixes club-dancing and other movement ideas he's come up with, plus what he learned in dance classes, and stirs them well. He presents himself as a guy itchy in his skin, on the move, his face and body refracting a storm of events, like a revolving mirror on a busy city street. In Love Letter, to Amy Winehouse's song "Valerie," he barely stirs from one spot, but he's a muscular whirlwind of motion and thought. Rolling his shoulders and hips, flailing his arms and legs, he can look plushy one moment and as jerky as a video-game figure the next, expressions flitting across his face in freeze-frames. He stops dead at times or lets what he's doing trail off, then snaps out of stillness with startling quickness. Eyes haunted, he tries to communicate something, then pauses as if to say, "No that's not it; I'll try again." (I'll come back to Leichter's group choreography.)

Foofwa d'Imobilité is Swiss, but he lived here during the seven years he danced in Merce Cunningham's company as Frédéric Gafner—always looking not only physically marvelous but more compelled by what he was doing than many of the others onstage. Benjamin de Bouillis, the title of his solo, is drawn from a mention in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, which gives us a third name and a shadowy character not so much assumed as presented as a stand-in. D'Imobilité is happy in the limelight. By way of an overture, he lets down the shade that covers the studio theater's huge west-facing windows, so that the sun shines directly in our eyes, and enumerates his interests—among them the artist's relationship to the public. While we squint as his silhouette convulses, jerks, squirms, scuffles, quivers its fingers, drops to the floor with a thunk, the alarm on his watch goes off, and he remarks that he can see in the small free-standing mirror that "some folks have shades." Here he is dancing remarkably like a man trying to shed his skin, and at the same time letting us know how pleased he is that we're here watching him.

Foofwa d’Imobilité in his solo Benjamin de Boullis.
Julie Lemberger
Foofwa d’Imobilité in his solo Benjamin de Boullis.

Details

Foofwa d'Imobilitť
Baryshnikov Arts Center
June 26 through 28

nicholas leichter dance
Dance Theater Workshop
June 25 through 29

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Benjamin de Bouillis, co-presented by the Baryshnikov Arts Center and Chez Bushwick, premiered in Geneva in 2005 and won the Swiss Dance and Choreography Prize in 2006. The piece was inspired by the ideas of neurologist Olaf Blanke—specifically by the notion of "décorporation." That is, the ability to perceive your own body as if you were outside it—maybe at some distance away—or as if it had become alien, transformed. A work by video artist Alan Sondheim that precedes the dance offers clusters of stylized, bright-colored flora that sprout "real" (that is, filmed) human limbs or parts of a face, while a voice explains the digital processes involved. The traces of distorted, deconstructed humanity look as if something gaudier than a Venus flytrap were in the act of swallowing them.

D'Imobilité, now wearing a longish black-and-gold jacket and bare-legged except for black socks and shoes, is all but spat out of the elevator that opens onto the studio. Over the next 40 minutes or so, he considers visions of himself. Standing in place, he accumulates a phrase of simple gestures, reacting to sudden harsh breath sounds in Antoine Lengo's collage score as if he felt the presence of some unseen other. He examines himself in the mirror, he walks, he does a remarkable long turn on one leg, he scratches his balls. The mirror, propelled by invisible hands, follows him around. And whatever gesture or dance step he performs, he's always thinking, always checking himself and the reflected doppelganger who looks back at him like a family portrait on the parlor wall.

In one illuminating moment, Gabriel Forestieri (billed as "Absence onstage") arranges a change of costume as if it's atop an invisible body The dancer lies down next to this image of himself before slipping out of one set of garments and into the new ones. We too are his mirror, and for a while, he stands before us and takes his face apart—smiling, grimacing, mashing his cheeks, pulling his mouth askew. After each change, he wipes the expression away and carefully steps out of the space he was standing in, as if he were trying on selves the way you try on clothes in a store. He also plays the old game in which one's own hand becomes an uncontrollable attacker. Marc Gaillard's lighting and the sometimes eerie music or spoken words heighten the oddity.

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