By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
By Tom Sellar
By Jessica Dawson
By Tom Sellar
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
How do you see motion in stillness? Raimund Hoghe, the German writer turned performer-choreographer, would like, I think, to instruct us in feeling the weight of time and help us to notice that even very minimal movements, repeated over time, changein themselves and in our perception of them. The works of his that Ive seen both cleanse and charge the air.
Last year at Dance Theater Workshop, he began Bolero, the first piece of his to be seen in the U.S., by carefully, and with dignity, walking around the perimeter of the performing area. This year, in his Sans-titre (part of the French Institutes Crossing the Line festival), he defines the same space by laying sheet after sheet of white paper along three sides of the black floor. That paper boundary and a candle in a glass at the back are the only décor. But he again begins by walking. He is not alone. While quiet Bach piano music emerges from the speakers, he and his colleague, Faustin Linyekula, approach each other from opposite sides of the stage, pass, and continue. Each repetition of this moves them a little closer to the rear wall, until they meet and stand side by side, their backs to us.
The walk gives you time to think (will they meet this time?) but more importantly, to take in their differences. Hoghe is a very small, white man in his fifties, with a crooked spine and a hump; hes wearing dark trousers and a black shirt. Linyekularaised in Congo, the director of a dance company in Kenyais a medium-height black man withit turns outa surpassingly beautiful spine; his shirt is white. Its not unusual for Hoghe to work with younger, lither performers, but in this powerful piecesimpler and shorter than others he has madethe physical and cultural contrasts between these two men form its intense core.
Although Sans-titre can refer to an immigrant without papers, the no-title title is apt in another way. What could you call Sans-titre that wouldnt be corny, or pin it down in some undesirable way? Stone Ritualis definitely out, although the ritualistically precise laying out and gathering up of stones take up a substantial amount of the pieces duration. Another vital element is Linyekulas dancing. Hes a master of the sinuous torso and shoulders; he takes off his shirt and you gasp. Holding him while hes moving would be like grasping a snake. His whole body is in vibrant motion; he slips down into a squat and up again as he goes; his arms shape air. His rhythms are varied; he may pause, or draw one move out, then snap the next. Hes always watchful, even wary at times.
Linyekula is in curious sympathy with, although never exactly moving to, the recorded music Hoghe has chosen. And what music! It adds a spiritual layer and an understated poignancy to Sans-titrehanging above it, moving through it. Janet Baker, I believe, is the mezzo-soprano who delivers Didos lament from Purcells Dido and Aeneas, but the very great English contralto, Kathleen Ferrier, who died of cancer at 41 in 1953, sings the Agnus Dei from Bachs B-minor Mass and He was despised. . . from Handels Messiah. (At one point, Linyekula, while dancing vigorously, sings along with a recording, eerily on pitch, but slightly out of synch.) When the two men are initially standing at the back, Odettas voice caresses No more auction block for me. Through several of its sweet, sad verses, the men are still, as if to let us appraise them in a skewed parallel to long-ago slave auctions. Then Hoghe slowly raises his left arm and, with difficulty, holds it up. As Linyekula lifts his own arm, he passes it close to Hoghes back and head, caressing his partner without touching him.
The stones. Theyre small. Linyekula can gather them in his hands and shake them. There are just enough for him to make a line from the front of the stage to the back, but after scanning along the trail and dancing a little, he walks forward in a squat, collecting them again. While Dido is singing When I am laid in earth, Hoghe walks to the rear center and lies supine, head toward the candle, feet toward us, and Linyekula begins another task with the stones. He outlines one of his hands with them, then the other hand and forearm, each time lifting away from the outlines to survey them or gather the stones needed to complete his task.
But his most important and difficult job is to lie face down and reach around to place the rocks one by one along his spine; then he crawls, rippling his back. Those that dont fall he shakes off in a sudden frenzy. When Hoghe also removes his shirt and lies prone, Linyekula assumes the manner of a grave nurse, or healer. Carefully, he lays the stones along Hoghes spine, drawing our focus to its hills and valleys. The stone trail runs from waist to back of head, with a small cluster on Hoghes hump and one in each of his upturned palms.