Dana Reitz, Jennifer Tipton, and Sara Rudner Light Up a World; Douglas Dunn Hosts a Curious Salon

In the early 1990s, Dana Reitz, Sara Rudner, and lighting designer Jennifer Tipton created a piece they called Necessary Weather.Reitz had been fascinated by the effects of light and had collaborated with Tipton before on her solos, but for that project, the Kitchen gave them four weeks of rehearsal in the theater. Reitz and Rudner had worked together briefly in the 1970s—when Rudner was dancing for Twyla Tharp, and Reitz was a member of Tharp’s Farm Group. Necessary Weather premiered in 1994 as one of those events that you stash in the folds of your brain, hoping to remember it always.

To see it revived in this more troubled year lifts the spirits. Tipton’s genius is well known in theater and opera, as well as in dance. Rudner and Reitz, both of whom are currently on college faculties—Rudner at Sarah Lawrence, Reitz at Bennington—perform with undiminished beauty. The piece begins with the two sitting onstage in the Baryshnikov Center’s new Jerome Robbins Theater, looking at the cyclorama with its subtly gold lower part fading upward into gray. When Reitz finally stands, she shifts her gaze upward and softly draws an arc with her right arm. It’s as if she’s pressing a volume of air the way you might draw a curtain aside.

There is no music, no sound but the women’s footfalls and an occasional cough from a spectator. In this wonderfully poetic piece, light is the weather, the climate, the world. The two gather it in, sense it on their skin, bask in it, and stare into the darkness where it is not. They touch only three times, but they’re always aware of each other, whether they’re in unison or improvising separate explorations. In one magical sequence, Reitz enters, almost silhouetted against the backdrop, carrying a disk-shaped object (you only realize it’s a straw hat when she puts it briefly on her head). But when she carries it, inverted, to the center of the stage, a bright pinpoint of light from overhead turns it into a luminous golden bowl, and she and Rudner face each other across it, both holding it, and talking animatedly in tones too low to hear.

Sara Rudner and Dana Reitz in "Necessary Weather."
Julieta Cervantes
Sara Rudner and Dana Reitz in "Necessary Weather."
Douglas Dunn, with hat in the background, oversees "Buridanís Ass"
Douglas Dunn, with hat in the background, oversees "Buridanís Ass"

Details

Dana Reitz, Jennifer Tipton, Sara Rudner
Jerome Robbins Theater, Baryshnikov Arts Center
450 West 37th Street
212-966-6999
May 13 through 15

Buridanís Ass
Douglas Dunn Studio
541 Broadway
212-966-6999
May 6 through 14

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Reitz has never, since I began watching her perform, been one for kicking her legs high or taking to the air. Tall, slim, and both delicate and strong, she often treads in place, weaving sinuous patterns with body and her fluid arms and hands, shaking something off, rolling invisible particles between her finger tips. Quiet as she is, she can build a repeating pattern into a lashing storm or suddenly lunge out to carve more territory.

Rudner, like Reitz, listens to the air and responds to the ways in which light changes how her body feels. But she’s sensual in an earthier way. In their unison passages, she opens herself to the light—basks in it, expands into space. But sometimes she takes off, her hips and shoulder mobile, frisking a little; at one point, she explodes into an unexpected frenzy of motion, as if the lights felt like tiny, tickling creatures. For both of these extraordinary performers, dancing has the rhythms of thought and of feelings, gleaned from the space we’re all in together and the climate Tipton has created.

That climate changes in amazing ways. So carefully focused are the lights that at times the performers appear embedded in total blackness, until they step into a ray and become golden or rosy, or tinged with green. Sometimes a large lamp, very high in one upstage corner, casts a diagonal beam on whoever is in its path. A dim circle that appears in the middle of the space becomes a pool to be entered or circumscribed. Four smaller circles also reveal themselves intermittently, and Reitz and Rudner test them out before settling on one or the other. Once, while Reitz is dancing, Tipton colors her red; Rudner is apart, in dimmer light. The tiny circle that illuminated the hat alights on Reitz’s forearm as she lies supine, and she moves her face into it before it goes out. Another time the lights on the cyc flicker on and off in a slow rhythm, unsettling our vision of the two travelers. Like the dancers, Tipton is capable of mischief; suddenly the whole stage glares white, and in the two seconds before this yields to something more reasonable, we can hear the women’s “Ouch!” and the like, and glimpse them grabbing their heads and staggering.

I think of these remarkable artists as night fishers, trolling under extraterrestrial moons—reinvestigating old strategies, trying new ones. They sleep, rest, look around them, rise, and—listening to the currents—cast over and over their gleaming nets of dancing. What beauty!

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I’ve only taken a few sips of the wine available when you get off the elevator, and I’m seeing a guy whose head is embedded in a huge die (cardboard studded with cotton-ball numbers). Several people try on a mask made of enmeshed colored wires. Is that the beak of a large stuffed bird head sticking out of a woman’s hat?

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