As with all of Parson and Lazar’s rich works, writing this has made me want to hurry over to the Kitchen and see it again.


The sight of a Persian carpet sets off little eruptions in the brain: Cleopatra having herself carried onto Caesar’s ship rolled up in one, exquisitely drawn Persian miniatures (so at odds with the present-day images of Iran in newspapers and books), Victorian parlors. I never thought to see such a rug used as equipment for a workout—no, for an ordeal.

Maria Hassabi begins Solo, the first half of her new “dance diptych,” lying on the floor of P.S.122’s small ground-floor theater, a rug drawn over her as far as her waist, like a blanket—except that it’s about 8 x 10 and heavy. Its scarlet surface bears symmetrical designs traced in blue-green, cream, peach, and black. We have plenty of time to ponder this artificial garden, because Hassabi is in place as we enter and remains motionless for a long time, while we listen to James Lo’s score. It sounds just like the traffic outside on 9th Street, augmented by what could be feet pounding down the corridor overheard, doors slamming, things falling over.

Big Dance Theater's 'Comme Toujours Here I Stand'
Courtesy the Kitchen
Big Dance Theater's 'Comme Toujours Here I Stand'
Maria Hassabi's "Solo"
Courtesy P.S. 122
Maria Hassabi's "Solo"

Details

Big Dance Theater
The Kitchen
512 West 19th Street
212-255-5793
October 1 through 4, 7 through 10

Maria Hassabi
Performance Space 122
September 29 through October 4

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We also view Hassabi in the context of where she is. The room accommodates a relatively small audience. The cement floor is pale gray. The dark gray walls bear signs of past and present functions: pipes, an elevator, a non-functioning door, covered-up windows, a fuse box, a bank of heaters, a flat sheet of metal with one corner broken off.

When Hassabi finally slides out from under the carpet and flips onto her stomach to sprawl across it, she stays there a long time too. We can peruse her lithe body in its flesh-colored leotard and pants, her slim bare arms, her long-toed feet, her black pigtail. Like previous pieces of Hassabi’s, Solo is part installation, part dance (although there are no dance steps per se in it). The rug becomes a heavy weight, a tent, a prop, a platform—altering in relation to her body. But because she is a component of this work, we read into it her desires, and the strength and endurance they involve stir up whispers of drama.

She rolls up the rug, sits beside it for several moments and then arches back over it. Her torso is twisted and, from the front row, her head is invisible. Her arms are spread, and you can watch the stretched muscles surrounding her armpits. She’s breathing harder. When, still arched back, she slowly crooks a knee and lifts her foot off the floor, her leg quivers. Then she rolls over and rests, looking like a drowning woman draped across a floating log.

Almost every “picture” she creates is achieved with difficulty or is difficult to maintain. Hassabi’s timing varies (thinking back on it, I wonder if her changes of action and design became gradually faster). She wrestles the carpet on end and stands beside it, her arm around it, then, after a few seconds, lets it go with a thud. She holds it horizontal for almost as long as she can bear to. She stands wrapped in it, its underside out, so that only the top of her head protrudes from the pyramid it forms. At one point, she lies down, so torqued that one arm seems not to belong to her. At least once, Joe Levasseur cools and dims the lights and then slowly restores a warmer glow.

Finally, Hassabi seems to feel she has accomplished—almost—what she set out to do. She goes to the back wall and, facing it, fixes her hair. Then she bundles up the rug and stands on it, adjusting her clothing and gazes behind her, turning her body as far as she can without losing her balance. Now for one of the hardest, short-term tasks—fortunately soon over: She gathers up the rug and, bent back under its weight, walks to a side wall, throws it down, and sits calmly beside it, looking over her shoulder at the sealed-off, handle-less door.

Gazing at this exquisitely designed living sculpture, you also feel your own body straining with Hassabi, and in the slow friction between these two views, mysterious emotions ignite.

From November 12 through 15, at P.S. 122, Hassabi will alternate with Hristoula Harakas in SoloShow.

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