Andrea Miller and Sidra Bell Tell It Like It Is. Maybe.

New pieces from two choreographers at Dance Theater Workshop

Sometimes I wish choreographers revealed more about their intentions in titles and program notes; sometimes I wish they said less. Then there’s the usual dance critic’s dilemma: Do I see the work in the light of its maker’s stated intentions? Or do I keep my mind on what the work itself is telling me? A little of both?

For the performances at Dance Theater Workshop shared by Gallim Dance and Sidra Bell Dance, both Andrea Miller of Gallim and Sidra Bell, director of her eponymous company, reveal in titles, program material, and prior interviews what they’re up to. Sort of. Miller’s For Glenn Gould was inspired by Gould’s two famous recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Between 1964 and 1981, his virtuosic performance at the keyboard refined into something more intimate, as if Bach’s notes were simply escaping from his fingertips while he watched—his breathy humming along audible.

Bell precedes the program credits for her POOL (how significant is the all-caps type? Should I care?) with an enigmatic set of framed words: and follows them with this line by the rock group Pay the Girl: “I will drink you in, drown in your blood, burn while you fiddle, dancing on my heart.” She has said that one of the influences on the work was her own near-drowning experience.

Varying a little Goldberg: Andrea Miller’s For Glenn Gould, with Dan Walzcak in the foreground
Yi-Chun Wu
Varying a little Goldberg: Andrea Miller’s For Glenn Gould, with Dan Walzcak in the foreground
Uppercase dancing: Alexandra Johnson and Zach McNally in Sidra Bell’s POOL
Yi-Chun Wu
Uppercase dancing: Alexandra Johnson and Zach McNally in Sidra Bell’s POOL

Details

Gallim Dance: For Glenn Gould
Sidra Bell Dance: POOL
Dance Theater Workshop
January 18 through 22

Bach is not the only strong presence in For Glenn Gould’s aural landscape; Strauss, Alvo Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Nick Drake also figure. What has seeped into Miller’s intriguing new piece from Gould’s two takes on Bach indirectly reflects Goldberg’s theme-and-variations structure, the notion of transitions, altering performing styles, and what constitutes performance anyway. Not knowing or sensing this, you might think the choreography was a comment on consumerism and decay and conspicuous waste.

Miller is a brave choreographer and an extremely gifted one. For Glenn Gould sucks you in with luscious, lusty, beautifully organized dancing, and all of a sudden the stage gets covered with islands of mysteriously mismatched debris (or treasures) amid which the dancers pursue solo variations and other events.

Bach would have approved of the formality of the crystalline three-part contrapuntal dancing with which Miller begins the work. That there are only six memorably marvelous dancers in the cast (Caroline Fermin, Troy Ogilvie, Francesca Romo, Dan Walczak, Jonathan Royse Windham, and Arika Yamada) heightens the image of clarity. As they move in pairs over a white floor to piano music, that clarity contrasts piquantly with Miller’s movement style. Although almost balletic tiptoe steps creep into this opening dance, the dancers often keep their knees bent and their feet wide apart, canting their bodies at odd angles and exploring unusual modifications of gesture.

Suddenly, the music disappears into the sound of yelling voices and city hubbub. Vincent Vigilante’s lighting acquires a temporary greenish cast, then turns the floor lavender. The dancers—their simple monochromatic practice attire replaced by bright-colored clothing by Yamada and Miller—bring in traffic cones, ropes, folding chairs, and objects of all sizes and uses, while Fermin (perhaps channeling Gould?) breathes heavily into a mike. The formality becomes informal. In an impishly fugal passage, all six sit, wriggling on the chairs, and, beginning at the left end of the semi-circle, make and erase a trail—clambering one by one over their colleagues in various athletic but companionable ways toward the right. Meanwhile Walczak, the right-most person, turns to us as they advance toward him and mouths, “I’m performing now.” His voice gets louder and more assertive, as the others clump themselves on and around him. The chairs are removed, and dancing resumes, but other objects amid the artfully, if eccentrically arranged detritus occasionally draw our attention (Fermin removes her trousers and blouse and lays them out like a dummy on some of the stuff, others drape themselves over the shapes provided, as if accommodating to uncomfortable new beds).

At least twice during the piece, performers copy a leader, giving the illusion of picking movements up on the spot (a very subtle form of canon). Just before the end, Walczak performs an extraordinary solo to a limpid passage of Bach, as if exploring terrain new to him. Watching him, the others try bits of his movement, then freeze, but finally join him fully. An offstage voice announces, “There has been a transition.” Just as I’m pondering that, the voice says, “Now I’m jumping on the bed. I feel like I’m disappearing.” The lights go out.

During the intermission, the dancers collect “their” objects from each area. I realize that I’d been expecting to be shown those things in terms of what they meant to people. But I don’t think that entered Miller’s scheme. Perhaps she simply wished us to see them as both challenges and discards—what we leave behind when we’ve gotten what we once needed out of them. Like the performance trappings that slid away during Gould’s voyage into a different and deeper virtuosity.

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The words that surround Bell’s POOL (including those by a variety of recording artists such as Berlin-based Gudrun Gut and Peter Grummich, the French Agoria, the Japanese Coppé, and others) fly around the images that Bell, a fast-rising choreographer in the U.S. and on the international scene, puts onto the stage. I can attach “I will drink you in, drown in every drop” and “the mirror of your face” to episodes between Jonathan Campbell, a sort of leader of the witchy revels, and Austin Diaz; they press together, breast to breast, nose to nose, cheek to cheek. Diaz, with his uncannily mobile spine and gasping mouth, swims and flails through dancing as if seeking air.

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1 comments
Lawrence2011
Lawrence2011

I'm sorry to have to say that whatever you were watching in that third grade piece of choreography from the Gallim company was to me about the level of a cool ny dance piece (I actually sat through that dance travesty a few times)....the Gallim piece was a horrible amateurish mess hiding under the guise of dance...i don't know where this amateur choreographer gets her reputation from but as a lover of dance for many years, I was disgusted by the total lack of vision in this piece of trash, no watchable dance except for a few moments when she allowed her victims to actually show that they can dance...the piece opened with some promising choreography and then just stopped dead...the rest of this mess could have been my neighbor's child emptying out my closets of all the junk I've accumulated over the years, spreading it out in my hallway and then playing with it like a moron...if playing with odd pieces of trash...running around the stage in ugly underwear lifting your dirty looking blouse to show breast, having female dancers look like they were giving head to the male dancers and dropping chairs on the floor is the ultimate state of what critics believe the dance world has risen to then we have reached the end of any hope in developing new and meaningful choreography....i think the NYC dance audience has lost its collective minds supporting "non-dance" crap like this...no wonder dance audiences have dwindled to the minute state it's in...At least the second piece, from choreographer Bell, showed great promise in it's interesting use of movement and dance language that brought out the best in her amazing dancers especially the interesting interplay of the two male leads which was strangely not romantic (it left me thinking about what it was and stimulated my imagination which happens rarely in most of the dance I see)...the music had many different levels as did the choreography.....this was my first experience seeing her company and I was bowled over....the comments I heard from people next to me were "masterpiece", "incredible" ... it felt like the audience was holding its collective breath in anticipation during the whole piece waiting to see where Bell was going to take them next...the woman next to me actually exhaled at the end as if she was lifted up from her chair in wonder...obviously Bell is a force to be reckoned with as opposed to the pseudo ohad gaga mess of the first piece...I'm also glad to read that Deborah Jowitt was able to sift through the grime and nastiness, that other writers posing as dance critics wrote, to see some of the reality of what I and much of the audience saw...

 
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