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

Local visits from two rarely seen choreographers

Oddly, in this tour de force, this highly motivated creation, it’s difficult to understand and feel for the figure at its center. She seems sometimes a concerned artist, sometimes a wandering magician, and sometimes an abstraction of humanity—a puppet of the universe.


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


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

And now for something completely different. Like Carolyn Carlson, the Australian choreographer Russell Dumas rarely shows work here, but for him dance is about movement and form and whatever feelings those may generate in performance. No scenery in the traditional sense. Music only occasionally. Although Dumas danced with Britain’s Royal Ballet and other European companies, he performed here (briefly) during the 1970s with Twyla Tharp and Trisha Brown, before founding his Sydney-based dance Exchange in 1976. And seeing his choreography always takes me back to the decade when dancemakers I admired were investigating the basic processes and possibilities of dance movement and the dancer’s body. The most recent glimpse of that kind of work we’ve had is last spring’s revival of Sara Rudner, Dana Reitz, and Jennifer Tipton’s Necessary Weather and Rudner’s glorious 2007 Dancing on View (Preview/Hindsight). Dumas has collaborated with Rudner, and a member of his company once performed a long phrase of his throughout an earlier version of Dancing on View.

For his presentation at the Baryshnikov Center, dance for the time being (N.Y. Premiere), which is dedicated to four Tharp alumni (Rudner, Rose Marie Wright, Jennifer Way, and Tom Rawe), Dumas hoped to show simply “material” that he could spread over two 50-minute segments on a single day, but instead felt it best to arrange it into one longer segment and do it twice. At the 5:30 p.m. showing, the sun is laying shadows of the huge, paned windows on one wall and a portion of the floor. Sometimes it glances over spectators seated in two rows of chairs on two sides of the big studio. The light changes, glows more orange, darkens as the dancing unfolds. There’s no other form of illumination. By the time Stuart Shugg has finished the solo that ends the piece, the sun has set behind the New Jersey cliffs, and the dimness makes his small leaps and springy steps seem suddenly bold. The only sound is that of the occasional slap of a foot against the floor or the performers’ breathing.

This is beautiful work—simple, yet complex; highly imaginative; profoundly physical; sensuous without being overtly erotic. You feel the choreography as a warm current of motion that the dancers are guiding through their bodies. The prevalent dynamic is deliberate, with occasional surprising little eruptions. The five performers (Jonathan Sinatra, Shugg, Nicole Jenvey, Linda Sastradipradja, and Christine Babinskas) look relaxed and unperturbed, as if they were concentrating on demanding, yet pleasurable tasks; occasionally one of them smiles. When they’ve finished one passage, they walk to another spot and begin a different one. Seldom have I been as aware of feet and how they press into, rebound from, or test the floor. One person causes another—lying on his or her side—to turn by walking in a close circle, hooking each step under the partner’s ankle. Two people rolling head to toe may be holding each other’s feet against their faces.

The five begin by walking into the performance space and executing a passage in unison, but all of them seldom dance together over the course of the evening. The two men perform a duet, while the women, in a line on the floor, do a slow, meditative, sitting-lying dance. In all the duets, partners mold their bodies together and touch each other in unusual, oddly intimate ways with what comes across as tenderness. Jenvey may sit on the supine Sinatra’s upraised feet and bend sideways to lean over him and grasp the hands he reaches up to her. Or, when he’s in the same position, sit down on his body and embrace his feet tightly, after which he pushes her hips up into an arch. Moves like this may sound tricky (and they are), but the calm clarity with which they’re performed make them look as unaffected as breathing, and every recovery from a maneuver is unhurried, smooth, and resilient. This makes an accent as small as the quick flip of someone’s hand or a sudden run or the deliberate stamp of a foot against the floor seem startling.

We’re very close to the dancers—close enough to focus, to feel how one person’s arm slides down another’s body, how someone subtly prepares for the effort of lifting someone else. We watch the duets, a trio for Jenvey, and two simultaneous duets differently, depending on where we sit. Shugg and Sastradipradja are so close to my row during their duet that my eyes track the flow of movement around their bodies. A quartet consisting of two mostly different duets happens at the far end of the room, with the two couples so close together that one pair is seen through the other, and they merge into a single shifting shape. A wonderful unison duet for Sinatra and Shugg that uses part of a wall for support is a both an underplayed athletic event (with a slight hint of competition) and a human calligraphic design.

I almost hoped the five superb dancers would keep going until the night had fully fallen, and we’d all be together, listening to the darkness.

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