Carolyn Carlson—From France to Jersey; Russell Dumas—Up From Oz

Local visits from two rarely seen choreographers

Alwin Nikolais’s spectacles of light, sound, and motion bowled over Parisians when his company paid its first visit to France in 1968. The company subsequently began an enduring relationship with the Théâtre de la Ville, and for a while, beginning in 1978, Nikolais headed the Centre Chorégraphique Nationale in Angers. Carolyn Carlson, the tall beauty who could dissect the motion of her limbs and torso into minute, supple articulations, was one of his stellar dancers in the early 1970s, even as she was beginning to make her own works.

Carlson has been based in Europe for years now—holding important and influential positions at the Paris Opera, Venice’s La Fenice, and elsewhere in Europe. She currently has her own school in Paris and a company at the CCN in Roubaix. A company of hers last played New York, at BAM, in 1985. Coincidentally, this month, two of her works surfaced here. The Finnish choreographer-dancer Tero Saarinen performed her Man in a Room during City Center’s Fall for Dance festival, and Carolyn Carlson–CCN Roubaix appeared on Montclair State University’s Peak Performances series.

I mention Nikolais because Carlson learned from him the magical powers of light and projections to transform dance. While he told no stories but those of moving images and fantasy worlds grounded in nature, she ventures into character and emotion. And, of course, contemporary technology enables her and her collaborators to devise effects that can be more elaborate and easily produced than those available to Nikolais.

Carolyn Carlson’s Double Vision
Electronic Shadow
Carolyn Carlson’s Double Vision
Nicole Jenvey, Jonathon Sinatra, and Stuart Shugg in Russell Dumas’s dance for the time being
Julie Lemberger
Nicole Jenvey, Jonathon Sinatra, and Stuart Shugg in Russell Dumas’s dance for the time being

Details

Carolyn Carlson Company–CCN Roubaix
Electronic Shadow
Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair State University
October 14 through 17
Peakperfs.org
Russell Dumas
Baryshnikov Arts Center
October 10

What struck me about both the solo she made for Saarinen and Double Vision, which she danced alone in Montclair, is that the soloist rarely seems to control the created environment but is controlled by it in a variety of ways. Man in a Room was inspired by Mark Rothko—less by the look of his works than by his mental torments. In a brilliantly crazed performance, Saarinen periodically dips his fingers into paint pots and smears stripes on his face and body, as if his art were colonizing him (you can check out video clips at terosaarinen.com). In the hour-long Double Vision, Carlson (now 67) sometimes seems impelled to move in order to create a desired visual effect. Even though she has cast herself as an observer-mediator in three different, fabulously gorgeous mobile environments by Electric Shadow (Naziha Mestaoui and Yacine Aït Kaci), plus lighting collaborator Emma Juliard, and she is a commanding figure onstage, she’s sometimes overwhelmed by her constantly changing surroundings, like a householder who doesn’t know what area to clean up next.

As the title of the solo promises, we see her and her world doubled. An immense suspended mirror tilts forward, so that her ground is also her sky, and we see her from the front and from above. For the first part, which bears an environmental message, she inhabits a roiling natural world that sometimes resembles the dry, cracking canyons of the Southwest, but also billows like the ocean, and spews snowflakes. Cells multiply. Black holes appear and fade. Carlson amplifies the motion of the video projections by a device that also limits what she can do. The “screen” for the projections is the vast, floor-covering white skirt that she wears—along with a white jacket and a strange headcovering with a single long horn projecting from one side (costumes by Chrystel Zingero). Mechanisms here and there under the skirt causes it to puff up and subside, but it is she who twists it into folds as she turns. Sometimes you can make out words amid the non-musical tumult of Nicolas de Zorzi’s score (her recorded voice mentions “The smell of dead fish and blood” while she is squirming on the floor).

Her own movements mostly involve bending and twisting and undulating, but she also strikes commanding or aversive positions, or slumps over a hummock. Her hands are busy, sometimes jabbering in the air when the pace heats up. Her mouth is often open, as if to echo the gasping, stylized breathing that’s an element of the score.

In the second section, she’s part of a dizzyingly busy fantasy city, where the audience has the illusion for several minutes of being on a train whizzing along white tracks through an infinity of white, deserted stations. This partly black-and-white cityscape is projected on five hanging panels, and sometimes Carlson—head, limbs, and body trapped in a form-fitting black suit—tracks or echoes her all-white projected self, darting from panel to panel. Her dancerly proficiency comes to the forefront, when the music delivers something like a rock beat, and she subtly reflects that.

The third part is an imagined world, as something like a theremin announces in its eerie voice. The opening image looks like sunset at the edge of the sea. Now Carlson wears an elaborate black coat with red and white accents; she leaves it on a low, arched structure and continues clothed in white. Now she’s free to spin and circle, to quiver her feet and dither with her hands amid projected lines and golden rays. She concludes with a kind of poetic lecture, seated on the arch, holding a mic and referring to the “super architect” of a creation she would like to see survive. Projected words echo “the world I see,” “the world I make,” and “the world I imagine.”

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