Misnomer and LeeSaar Plumb the Body’s Enigmas

Misnomer Dance Theater has recently received more money in grants than any six-member, left-of-center dance group I can think of. That good fortune is due, in large part, to the several exceedingly smart and workable online systems that Misnomer’s artistic director and choreographer, Chris Elam, is developing. The interactive programs are designed to bring a given dance company into closer contact with audiences and draw in potential viewers. It helps that Elam’s choreography is appealing, witty, and just a bit weird. At present, a web surfer’s attention may easily be snagged by the photos and videos at misnomer.org.

Elam wants spectators to understand what he’s doing. And to understand that sometimes there’s nothing to understand but the intriguing dance of limbs in space and the surprise of bodies attaching to other bodies (and whatever those moves may mean to you). He prefaces his relaxed but informative program notes with these encouraging words: “The notes I offer below are an inlet into some of my thoughts on the works, but should by no means supercede your own.”

In Rock. Paper. Flock, the middle of three works on a program entitled Being Together, he makes spectators feel as if they’re in on the dance-making process by creating a simulacrum of an early stages rehearsal. He gives suggestions; the dancers (Brynne Billingsley, Luke Gutgsell, Jennifer Harmer, Coco Karol, and Dorian Nuskind-Oder) follow through very creatively—looking great in charmingly wacky costumes by Liz Prince that hint at parade-ground attire. Interestingly, Elam is almost the only one who talks, although his “materials” may shoot inquisitive or put-upon looks his way, when he gives them countdowns to find interesting group poses or says to Karol, “Coco, please do what I’m thinking.” Wearing a black jumpsuit and a leather Russian aviator’s helmet as a thinking cap, the choreographer delivers instructions that reveal, in witty ways, quite a lot about how dances get made. Sometimes he’s snared by his own creation; sometimes it takes off without him.

Chris Elam’s "Too Late Tulip," with Luke Gutgsell, Brynne Billingley, and Jennifer C. Harmer
ShaLeigh Comerford
Chris Elam’s "Too Late Tulip," with Luke Gutgsell, Brynne Billingley, and Jennifer C. Harmer


Misnomer Dance Theater
Joyce Soho
155 Mercer Street
Through December 14

LeeSaar The Company
Annex Theatre at La MaMa
74A East 4th Street
Through December 14

Fantasy and gritty reality blend. He grouses that he needs a new “element,” and man in a suit and a woman in a dress (Jenny Campbell and Val Loukiano) run on and fit themselves in. He asks Nuskind-Oder, whose back is to us, to turn blue. After a pause in which we can’t see anything happening, he says, “Good.” Later—with layers of clothing peeled off to reveal Kaibrina Sky Buck’s skimpy, ruffled, flesh-colored costumes from an earlier Elam piece—he, Gutgsell and Karol engage in some improbable Elam linkages; sometimes he picks the other two up and staggers forward—the straining base of an oblivious circus act.

His opening piece, Too Late Tulip, needs little explanation. Wearing Prince’s pastel-colored, simply cut dresses, Harmer, Karol, and Nuskind-Oder show you how Elam’s simple, attractive phrase looks when they perform it in canon or in different spatial arrangements. By attractive, I don’t mean bland. Elam’s fairly slow, luscious movements stretch the dancers’ limbs, bend their torsos, and cant their hips. When Billingsley and Gutgsell enter, the tender words of one of the musical selections—a song by Greg Brown—return to suggest a couple and a family. So now you can see the three women as daughters. If you wish.

The last dance, Zipper, continues the wide-open theme of togetherness. The audience, primed by Rock. Paper. Flock, can catch the tiny scenarios that crop up and dissolve, enjoy seeing froggy cartwheels become sleek balances, wonder why Karol is standing wiggling her fingers intently. The first week, the three-man band Real Quiet plays Evan Ziporyn’s score live, and David Cassin’s impetuous-sounding percussion contrasts with cellist Felix Fan and pianist Andrew Russo’s quirkily sweet melodies the way the dance’s beauties marry its oddities. Elam is a master of strangeness. Entering late, he struts like a supervising stork, knots his body improbably (alone or around others), and hunkers down in the angular positions that attest to his training in Balinese masked dance-drama.

The performers are all vibrant, although I find myself wishing that they would always just be themselves instead of “themselves”—that they’d be puzzled or suspicious, if that’s what’s called for, instead of telegraphing, or commenting on, that state.

Some mysteries you fret over; others are best left unsolved—just savored for their strangeness. Actor-writer Lee Sher and dancer-choreographer Saar Harari call their performance February; that’s the first mystery. Think cold? Maybe. That umbrella title covers Little Island, a short play by Sher, and Harari’s One Day (Sher is also given credit for its choreography). Is there a connection between the two works? Maybe.

“Martha who?” That must be what the unheard voice on the telephone is asking. “Martha Who, yes, that is my name,” says the woman sitting stiffly in the middle of a white sofa. This woman (Sher) might as well be marooned on a real island. The only other furniture is a free-standing door and a potted tree that Joe Levasseur makes very important with his lighting. Martha Who is wearing a nice black velvet dress and pretty shoes, but she’s not going anywhere. She also seems to be pregnant, and you can try to figure out whether this is the character’s condition or the performer’s (the latter, I think).

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