By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
When the applause died down after Wally Cardona and Rahel Vonmooss collaborative duet, A Light Conversation, a colleague turned to me and said in wonder and deep satisfaction, two grownups dancing. This is true. And rare. Minutes later, walking along Mercer Street, I remembered a sentence about Socrates that surfaces in the pieces sound score via a taped discussion about the Danish philosopher Søren Kerkegaard (1813-1855). Kierkegaard very much admired Socratesin part because, as one panelist noted, the Greek philosophers ideas could rearrange the furniture in somebodys head.
Thats how I felt during and after A Light Conversation. The title itself is provocative, since the conversation is profound on many levels. But its also luminous, and its moods are movingly delineated by Roderick Murrays interplay of brightness and near darkness. Cardonas program bio mentions that one of his current projects is teaching a course at the New School called Performance/Phenomenon: Theory and Philosophy Into Physical Practice, and that title hints at what he probes in this mysteriously stirring dance.
A Light Conversation is, however, anything but pedantic, and the statements made by participants in the BBCs In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg slip around the dancers bodies, now floating free, now congruent (remarks, for instance, about Kierkegaards wrestling with the relative merits of the aesthetic man and the ethical man). One event in the philosophers life seems particularly relevant to the duet. At the age of 24, he fell in love with Regina Olsen and she with him. Yet he broke off the engagement, perhaps feeling that his gloomy nature would render married happiness impossible (today, he would undoubtedly be dosed for clinical depression, depriving us of works like his Fear and Trembling). The same year, 1843, in which that famous work was written he published Repetition, about a man who left his beloved.
Perhaps you dont need to know all this to appreciate the duet, but shards of whatever brought A Light Conversation into being cling to it, and thats part of its beauty. The reason my friend can use the word grownup so decisively is that the performers seem always to be thinkingweighing options, untangling ideas. An outstretched arm is a statement to be considered before moving on. Cardona and Vonmoos are usually calm and strong within the richly nuanced dancing, although speed takes them over in one passage when hard-hit drums all but drown out the cool, British voices, and the two reel about the space as if buffeted by forcesinner or outersometimes snagging on each other. They cant quite control these tempests but neither do they yield entirely to them.
In less than an hour, we live through what seem like myriad decisions on their part. Theyre beautiful to watch, tender with each other, and slightly guarded. Cardonabearded, erect, and intenseresembles one of Piero della Francescas muscular saints (although without a saints certitude). Vonmoos is his equal in strength, but beside him, she tends to look modest and questioning. Perhaps this impression is produced by a passage in which they dance separate monologues opposite each other and at the perimeters of the space; his gestures are large, hers small; she appears to be ruminating over alternatives, trying to put her mind in order. Once, they struggle togethernot messily, but leaning together in various ways on a slant and applying enormous pressure. At times, the voices of the intellectuals on the panel are subjected to pauses in the tape, suggesting. . . what? Perhaps Cardonas impatience with their glibness. Later theyre briefly replaced by his own recorded voice (and Vonmooss barely audible responses) talking in rehearsal. In this deliberately edited dialogue, Cardona never finishes a sentence or gets to the meat of a thought.
In one of many moments that stop your breath, Cardona moves behind Vonmoos, pressing himself along by pushing down hard on her extended arm. She leans against him, her head thrown back while he holds her. He bends his head close, perhaps whispering to her. No, imprinting his lips on her neck. She doesnt move. Later they repeat this sequence, but he doesnt put his face against her, only leans her farther back, while the stage goes temporarily dark.
Watching this small, remarkable collaboration, I sense, as if by contagion, the shadows that beset a thinkers mind, the moments of illumination, and the constant struggle between these. The painful contest between desire and what is perceived as truth lodges in the heart.