Beginning of the End of the...: Puccini, Pirandello, Sales Clerks!

David Gordon conjures his newest piece of dance theater

"There is no play and no author!" declares one of the nine performers swirling in near-constant motion in David Gordon’s latest dance-theater work. That's both true and false: choreographer-director Gordon takes a writing credit, too, but this cascade of dialogue is culled partly from three of Pirandello’s early 20th-century texts, punctuated by musical phrases from Puccini. Though not a play, Beginning of the End of the... is a performance collage; there is no traditional author, but Gordon has masterminded the structure.

Thematic motifs recur, but sequences morph fluidly into something else—sometimes circling back, sometimes not. Actors bicker with a director (played by Gordon). Characters appear for a play, seeking its author. A dying young man (David Skeist) wanders the city and fixates on a nurse (Charlotte Cohn) in a waiting room. A commuter (Gus Solomons jr) delivers an appreciative ode to sales clerks with gift-wrapping skills, and rushes for his train. A Leading Lady (Valda Setterfield) rehearses a dramatic fiction while sifting through layers of memory and autobiography.

If you’ve seen Gordon’s elliptical work before, there won't be many aesthetic surprises in this wonderfully gentle mix of meta-theater, movement, and unison recitals of nonlinear wordplay. But in the Joyce Soho’s pleasingly intimate space, the company’s playful intelligence feels vibrant and inviting.

This satisfyingly dense thicket of abstractions—and their often-beautiful physical expression—ultimately mirrors Pirandello in its unstable balance of illusion and reality. Every sequence coalesces around the actors’ compelling, self-conscious presence: They arrive, cluster or arrange themselves for a scene, then dwell for a moment. Yet each sequence soon recedes, melting away. Like the young dying man with the flower in his mouth, we’re left to savor the ebb and flow of meanings and to acknowledge their ephemerality. In Gordon's hands, these fleeting scenes evoke as much as any author's play.

 
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