By Alexis Soloski
By R. C. Baker
By Alexis Soloski
By Tom Sellar
By Araceli Cruz
By Brienne Walsh
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
Attending the second program in the Joyce Theaters presentation of four women choreographers, you ready yourself for intermission by drying your eyes and leave the theater at the end of the evening laughing. But humor and high jinks play a part in Kate Weares beautiful new Bright Land, and tenderness seams together the outright comic events in Monica Bill Barness 2009 Another Parade.
Bright Land begins with music. The five members of the terrific bluegrass-and-beyond ensemble, The Crooked Jakes, are onstage under a modest hanging lamp. Collin Gallahues fiddle is frisking above Charlie Roses bass, while Rose Sinclair, Lisa Berman, and the bands founder, Jeff Kazor, manage the guitars and mandolin. Dancers Leslie Kraus, Marlena Penney Oden, Adrian Clark, and Douglas Gillespierespectably, but not fancily appareled by Sarah Cubbage, the women in full-skirted dresses might be attending any old-time, small-town Saturday night dance, except that theyre the only folks there, and the music is reaching into their souls.
We get hints of that early on, when the very versatile musicians sing Sea Lion Woman, and the woman watch their seated partners bump along the floor and lie there frozen. Still, theres plenty of rich, happy dancing with the dancers legs flying out, their bodies dipping and spiraling to fine old tunes like Shady Grove and Ida Red in potent new arrangements by Kazor or Kazor and Berman. The men whirl the women around and into the air. The clusters for four are tangled but friendly. Catching up with Gillespie as hes pulled along by others, Kraus gives his butt a smack. Theres little overt behavior, however, and, although the night and the tunes occasionally make Kraus and Oden feel sexy, they dont pursue the men in any obvious way; they just stretch and tease their bodies like cats in front of a warm hearth.
Religious feelings and intimations of death appear like unavoidable guests at the party. While the musicians chant and clap, exhorting Gabriel to blow his horn, the dancers move slowly through positions that might be seen as accusatory. They reach straight arms out to the sidein many directionsand stare beyond them. For a long time, Gillespie stands holding one bent arm up in front of himneither quite warding off nor quite beckoning, perhaps remembering something he once touched. Later, Clark is lifted like a body on a bier.
As Bright Land heats up, the dancers discard items of clothing a tie gets tossed into the wing, a vest handed to someone. Kraus stand close together, staring at each other, while they unbutton their dresses and take them off (they wear lighter ones underneath and slips beneath those). Brian Joness beautiful lighting subtly turns the backdrop gold, then fades it to blue twilight, then lightens it again. The band members try different instruments; as Clark and Gillespie strive together, a harmonium and a toy piano appear in the mix. Kazor sings in a strong, lazy voice; Bermans higher, twangy one is sharp enough to cut heartstrings.
The core of the piece is a duet for Kraus and Gillespie. He has suddenly flung himself between her open legs and lain there while Clark and Oden dance in the background, but when the recumbent pair sit up, Gillespie gently touches Krauss face. Kazors voice caresses them both: Im so tired; sing me to sleep, as Gillespie lifts Kraus into his arms. These twoas in other works by Weareare extraordinary. They slide awkwardly, yet knowingly together; sometimes youre not sure whether he has picked her up or she has climbed onto him. Nothing seems feigned or studied; you feel their desire viscerally as part love, part anger, part question. A waltz tune turns into something scratchy. In a final, unforgettable moment, Gillespie has flung himself down on top of Kraus, but after theyve sat up and faced off, she, sitting on his legs, suddenly butts her head hard against his chest; he leans back slightly. She keeps hammeringalmost speculatively until hes flat on his back.
In the end, the musicians are strolling downstage, calling on Jesus to meet them. The dancers are back among the instruments and music stands, clapping and feeling fine in their sweaty splendor. Aint no grave gonna hold my body down go the words. Watching the inhabitants of this bright here-and-now land that Weare and her superb collaborators have made, you can believe it.
Monica Bill Barnes has created for herself a pungent milieu that faintly echoes those established by Charlie Chaplin. In pieces for her small, all-female ensemble, the dancers apparent onstage goal is to be bold and adventurous, but insecurity and doubt arent easily vanquished. Daily life seems like a rehearsal for a performance those involved dont fully understand. Watching Another Parade(2009) at the Joyce, you sense unspoken questions. Am I doing this right? And, should I be somewhere else? You laugh at the telling looks and gestures, the brave displays, but you feel the poignancy of the womens determination. Many of the movements are everyday ones, ingeniously altered and expanded, but the women in the groupBarnes, Anna Bass, Charlotte Bydwell, and Celia Rowlson-Hall dance big too, and with athletic gusto.