By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Lilly Lampe
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
Dance is a space-hungry art. The movement forms shapes and lays out patterns; it needs room to show them. The concept of place often goes beyond the actual walls and floor of a theater to suggest an imagined site as specific as a castle ballroom, as porous as the chambers of a mind.
In new works by Jeremy Nelson and Luis Lara Malvacías, Julian Barnett, and Ivy Baldwin, the performance space becomes confining, almost claustrophobican arena in which people dispute and grapple with themselves, one another, and the surrounding environment. Once having entered it, they rarely, if ever, leave.
Nelson and Lara Malvacías have been partners in life and art for years now. Both choreograph and perform; the latter provides striking designs. Sooner Than You Think, the last event in the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival, centers on the separations they endure in the course of their busy careers. Theyre all too familiar with lonely hotel rooms, meetings in foreign airports, phone calls between hours-apart time zones. In Sooner, two very large folding screens designed by Lara Malvacías pen the men in and keep them apart. Set at angles with their plain wood sides out, the screens become walls, between and around which the two men dart, never meeting, never seeing each other even when close. They appear and disappear, always in a rush. Nelson is more pent-up, delineating the space with precise gestures or slicing through it. Lara Malvacías is more volatile, banging his head over and over against the edge of a panel or performing a fascinatingly dramatic and temperamental monologue in gibberish. Ivo Bols score underlays their travels with quiet throbbings, rumblings, and other muted sounds that mate suggestively with projected videos of landscapes seen from a fast train (by Lara Malvacías and David Tirosh). Occasionally, there are loud explosions.
Eight performers act as stagehands and features of the landscape, like trees or impassive pedestrians. They race in and plant books and other objects on the shelves on the screens wooden sides, and as quickly remove them. For the choreographers, no place is home for long. The assistants turn the screens inside out to reveal roomshalf with faux Spanish tiles, half with a subtler green patternin whose corners the two men huddle. The screens get pulled around by ropes, separated into panels, laid on their sides and joined to form a pen.
Oddly, the rich, variegated movementusually one of the joys of Nelsons choreographyis the least expressive aspect of Sooner Than You Think. The tale of separation and longing emerges most vividly through the ingenious shifting décor and the rhythmic changes that frustration induces in lovers who cant always be together.
Julian Barnett is a terrific dancersmall and powerful, nimble, unpredictable; he can melt one moment and explode the next. You may remember him in works by Larry Keigwin and Johannes Wieland. He began choreographing seriously in 2003, and his Sound Memory reveals that he has smart, original concepts and the talent to see them through. Even though about halfway through the 50-minute piece the choreography starts grinding its wheels, it swiftly regains traction and charges ahead.
The theme of Sound Memory is explained by its title (if I hear, say, Sting letting loose with Ill Be Watching You, Im suddenly 20 years younger and in a car heading north). In Barnetts work, music triggers action and behavior along with recollection. Hanna Kivioja and Justin Ternullo begin seated among the spectators ranged around four sides of the church. Like iPod junkies on the subway, theyre tethered to their private music, but Barnett is channeling an earlier decade. When they rise from their chairs and move into the area that Amanda K. Ringger has ingeniously framed in a strip of light, the headphone cords stretching out behind them end in boomboxes. Once unhooked, Kivioja and Ternullo try moving togetherrarely touching or touching in awkwardly connected ways. Perhaps theyre discovering how their separate musical tastes might match.
In the blackout that ends their duet, we hear rattling noises, and a slim, green pencil of light along the floor reveals on onslaught of hurled audio cassettes. There could be 50 of them. When Barnett enters, hes got a boom box too. For the remainder of the dance, the three spend a lot of time crawling around, examining cassettes, stuffing them into the machines, punching buttons, and watching one another warily. But they also dance alone or simultaneouslywildly and wonderfullyas if the jumble of music that we hear were trying to sort itself out in their bodies. The blond, Finnish-born Kivioja looks like a picture-book farm girl, but when she starts lunging deeply, she displays a boldly sensual extravagance. Ternullos limbs pull him in all directions at once, and strange coordinations are one of Barnetts specialties.
Most of the music must be determined by chance (although at some point you realize that sound designer Stephan Moore is playing an active role). When Kivioja begins a solo, Beethovens Moonlight Sonata sneaks in, then Fleetwood Macs Rhiannon takes over. One-upmanship also intrudes. Barnett walks away with Ternullos boom box, and its owner follows him, as if still leashed to it. When the two men tussle, Kivioja pursues them around the room, spinning a boom box on the floor like a top until its music smears.