Donna Uchizono and Christopher Williams Traffic in Mysteries, Unveiled and Veiled

Proximity and distance, intimacy and formality face off in Donna Uchizono’s new longing two and—furtively, seductively—swim together into enigma. It’s been too long since this choreographer has presented work in New York (the last pieces of hers I saw—one of them a trio for Mikhail Baryshnikov, Hristoula Harakas, and Jody Melnick—opened Bard’s Summerscape Festival in 2006).

longing twoteases our perceptions, especially as it relates to its territory. For the first half, BAC’s Howard Gilman Performance Space is divided by two long, four-foot-high walls of white paper with an aisle between them. Spectators sit in rows just outside one wall or the other. From my chair, I can see only the faces—if that—of the other half of the audience and hastily dismiss the image of a shooting gallery. Coincidentally (or not), a person in authority scans us and calls out, “Lois, are you here?” Whatever the answer, it frees up two front-row seats beside me. Encouraged to move forward, two spectators ask if those are better seats. On her way out, the original questioner replies, “Better is a relative term.” Somehow that little scene sets up the performance for me. Do we see something close to us better than we discern something far away? And what if the thing that’s close is partly occluded?

When Anna Carapetyan and Savina Theodorou dance along the narrow corridor between the two “walls,” I could reach out and touch whichever one is closest. Yet, I only see them from the waist up, unless they lie down and kick upward, as they do later in the piece—in which case we’re treated to a knotty, tumbling dance of legs and feet that beats any aquacade you’re likely to see. The two travel mostly in inkblot symmetry, and in the beginning, their gently rippling, sweeping arm movements seem at home in the surf sounds that initially ebb and flow in James Lo’s wonderfully evocative score. Meanwhile, down the middle of the aisle, Harakas and Uchizono, wearing complicatedly draped white clothes, thread a slow journey between the more active two. When they get to the opposite end—where lighting designer Joe Levasseur has installed a bank of vertical fluorescent tubes—they disappear.

Hristoula Harakas and Donna Uchizono in Uchizono's "longing two"
Photo by Paula Court
Hristoula Harakas and Donna Uchizono in Uchizono's "longing two"
Adam H. Weinert and Eikazu Nakamure in Christopher Williams¹s
"Gobbledegook."
Photo by Florence Baratay
Adam H. Weinert and Eikazu Nakamure in Christopher Williams¹s "Gobbledegook."

Details

Donna Uchizonoís longing two
Baryshikov Arts Center and the Kitchen
June 1 through 5

Christopher Williams
Dance New Amsterdam
June 3 through 6

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Back and forth Carapetyan and Theodorou go, their torsos wheeling and arching and ducking briefly out of sight, as the demanding movement gradually builds in intensity. Cries of gulls, snatches of music, and a deep female voice speaking poetry in a Scandinavian tongue drift in. Other lighting instruments pick up the sparse trails of sequins on the dancer’s white leotards (costumes by Wendy Winters, set design by Ronnie Gensler). This is a very white place.

These two dancers presume upon our closeness while withholding contact. Their gaze often acknowledges us in passing. They whisper, “I have something to tell you,” but don’t reveal it. They sidestep close to the walls, each bearing a white pitcher, and ask us if we’d like some water. No matter what our response, they move sweetly on.

The withheld-water idea is reprised in a more informal way in each of the two buses that carry the audience from West 37th street to the Kitchen on West 19th Street, where the second part of longing two takes place. We’re handed paper cups upon exiting BAC, and while the bus I’m in makes its way to the Kitchen, Levi Gonzalez stands in the aisle and drinks from a gallon jug of water. We clutch our cups; no one asks him for some. Would he give it to us if we did?

At the Kitchen, the neon tubes are now a small thicket of inverted u-shapes in a far corner, and a wide horizontal swath of wrinkled white fabric hangs above the performing area, slanting slightly downward. Although Carpetyan and Theodorou gallop through in fleeting appearances or, later, reprise steps in the light-grove at the back, this part of longing two focuses on Uchizono and Harakas. Now we’re in a conventionally arranged black box theater, and most spectators are at some distance from the performers. Yet the choreography invites us to view them more intimately, to ponder them. For one thing, these women begin as if becalmed. Uchizono reclines on the floor, leaning back on her elbows, and contemplates the space above her; meanwhile, Harakas advances incrementally by stepping into canted balances on one leg, moving extremely slowly and with a plushy ease that belies her almost miraculous control. I can notice the gaps between the toes of her lifted foot widen and close again. On the floor, Uchizono raises both her legs and probes the air with even more agile toes; her feet converse.

The mysteries deepen. The voices of a crowd and traffic noises surface amid increasingly loud rumbling and creaking in James Lo’s score; underneath them, a bass note so low it makes the seats vibrate slides in. Big overhead lamps brighten the space without warming it. When Uchizono slowly and stiffly comes forward to confront us, reeling slightly, she performs an uncanny monologue of subtly twisting body parts and shifting gaze. She pulls her chin in, shakes her fists, stamps suddenly. She might be channeling her own grandmother.

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