Andrea Miller and Sidra Bell Tell It Like It Is. Maybe.
Sometimes I wish choreographers revealed more about their intentions in titles and program notes; sometimes I wish they said less. Then theres the usual dance critics dilemma: Do I see the work in the light of its makers 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 theyre up to. Sort of. Millers For Glenn Gould was inspired by Goulds two famous recordings of Bachs Goldberg Variations. Between 1964 and 1981, his virtuosic performance at the keyboard refined into something more intimate, as if Bachs notes were simply escaping from his fingertips while he watchedhis 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:
Bach is not the only strong presence in For Glenn Goulds aural landscape; Strauss, Alvo Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Nick Drake also figure. What has seeped into Millers intriguing new piece from Goulds two takes on Bach indirectly reflects Goldbergs 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 Millers 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 Vigilantes lighting acquires a temporary greenish cast, then turns the floor lavender. The dancerstheir simple monochromatic practice attire replaced by bright-colored clothing by Yamada and Millerbring 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 trailclambering 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, Im 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 Im pondering that, the voice says, Now Im jumping on the bed. I feel like Im disappearing. The lights go out.
During the intermission, the dancers collect their objects from each area. I realize that Id been expecting to be shown those things in terms of what they meant to people. But I dont think that entered Millers scheme. Perhaps she simply wished us to see them as both challenges and discardswhat we leave behind when weve gotten what we once needed out of them. Like the performance trappings that slid away during Goulds voyage into a different and deeper virtuosity.
The words that surround Bells 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.
Similar images of fighting for breath or trying to revive someone crop up; Diaz slings Campbell over his shoulder and carries him away. The group that includes Maud de la Purification, Alexandra Johnson, Caroline Kirkpatrick, Zach McNally, and Kendra Samson hoist Diaz overhead and laid out. At several points, Vigilante throws four oval, greeny-gold pools of light on the back wall where the dancers swim vertically.
While Millers movementdeconstructive in terms of traditional Western formshas a kind of robustness (perhaps in part because of her work in Israel with Ohad Naharin and his Gaga technique), Bells is slipperier and, in this piece, it has a decadent, preening quality, as if she wants both to parody and to embrace the forwardness of club dancers look-at-me, butt-first presentations. If the rippling and undulating and erratic deformations sometimes take on an underwater look, the black goth costumes and bizarre, wounded-looking makeup (by Johnson) enhance the image of a vampire get-together. One of the phrases printed in the program is dancing in the dark, and that dark can summon up sweetie-pie romance, ignorance, lust, or bravery in the face of danger. Its too much to try to parse, and POOL, as it winds toward the end of its 41 minutes, threatens to drown those in the audience whom its not still exciting.
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