That’s Durning for you. Dancing, she creates a fascinating vision of certainty undermined by confusion, wildness battling control, beauty challenging ugliness. When the audience enters St. Mark’s, a video by Rachel Boggia is playing on a big screen. It shows a number of dancers recalling the work we are about to see (or an earlier version of it). Some have performed with Durning, others are observers. They all remember the piece very differently.

During this, Durning enters matter-of-factly and sets up equipment. Sitting on a chair in front of a console of four small speakers, she activates a metronome and a small device harnessed to her chest that emits a click-track; together these create a double beat, to which she sings in a clear, unaffected voice. The music and lyrics (which stem from a text she wrote) are by Jules Maxwell. The words in this song, as well as in two other sung later, are prosaic, if a little askew. “Where are these days?” she sings, and “Are you around?” Later she turns a few knobs, and her voice is sent gasping and stuttering through the speakers, as if she were speaking deep in a well.

When she begins to dance, she seems to search for something. Her mobile face

DD Dorvillier’s "Choreography, a Prologue for the Apocalypse  
of Understanding, Get Ready!"
Yi-Chun Wu
DD Dorvillier’s "Choreography, a Prologue for the Apocalypse of Understanding, Get Ready!"

Details

DD Dorvillier/human future dance corps
Dance Theater Workshop
January 10 through 17

Jeanine Durning
Danspace at Saint Markís Church
January 15 through 17

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reflects a passing flood of thoughts. Boldness and uncertainly vie within her small, powerful body. Her acting is as fine as her dancing, whether she’s telling us with an engaging smile, as she manipulates wires and dials, that “This is a solo, so I’m trying to do everything myself”; or planting one foot about five feet up one of the church pillars and talking at a feverish speed; or sitting on a chair and perfectly synchronizing her words about time and the perpetual act of becoming with the silent, moving mouth of her video image.

Her aloneness and her solitary efforts to cough up (literally) feelings are deeply touching without being sentimental. As she dances, she recalls a disturbing moment. Her mother is looking at family snapshots and throwing some away. “Ma, that’s me,” she says, “your youngest.” And the mother says, “I don’t recognize her.” Soon after that, Durning, still in motion, rubs a microphone furiously over her body and the objects around her—letting it voice her agonies.

What turns out to be only the first half of this long piece ends with composer Maxwell, and five suddenly-appearing, non-dancers (Lenny Manoff, Peter Doyle, Major West, and Victor Giganti) singing in slightly imperfect harmony about sleeping soundly for a week. All but Maxwell are probably over 65. The sudden apparition of a chorus of stand-in daddies?

The evening could have ended there, but the second half re-states in very different, more formal ways, some of the solo’s concerns. In the terrific opener, Molly Poerstel and Rachel Lozoff sit side by side on chairs. Poerstel—laughing so hard she can barely get the words out—recounts several hilarious events that the two were present at. “Do you remember this?” she keeps repeating, as she nudges the completely blank-faced Lozoff. She gabbles so breathlessly that you can’t make out what she’s saying.

These women dance both wildly and calmly, sometimes holding hands and traveling around the space in a chaining pattern like that of a remembered folk dance. Maxwell plays the piano quietly for them. They too cough and choke, move warily, explode into physical and vocal exertions. And, joined by Matthew Rogers, they take turns being dragged, reminding us how earlier Durning had recruited Maxwell and Manoff to drag her. In the end, the white sheet on which the videos were projected falls, and Durning reappears beside Rogers.

It’s hopeless trying to interpret Ex-Memory in any literal way. Sure, the white sheet falling suggests a wiping out of memories. Yes, Durning is both the agent of her recollections and the sensual surface that refracts them. She instigates an inquiry into the process of remembering that stings her as if she’d blundered into a beehive. While you’re watching her, you don’t wonder what she’s doing; you shake in your boots.

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