Lost and Found

New world disorder: Hall, with (from left) Shahar Brown, Kama Kolton, and Iris Erez
photo: Tom Brazil

The enormously gifted choreographer Yasmeen Godder, who divides her time between Israel and the U.S., brought Hall to the Kitchen last week. It presupposes a cataclysm, a breakdown in the world order. The setting is an abandoned dance hall (designed by Anat Sternschauss and lit by Jackie Shemesh). The five people who sit in its chairs, stare into its mirrors, huddle in its corners, and move uncertainly across its parquet floor have come, somewhat dressed up, to rediscover what one does here. But they themselves seem damaged, inept in the roles they think they should play. They want our confirmation; like Pina Bausch's crew, they smile at us as if they had little secrets. Godder's opening solo to a song by Dikla is a marvel of contrary behavior. Her body seems beset by ideas. She scampers, she flirts with the audience, she hunches her shoulders and flexes her arms; her feet are busy all the time.

Kama Kolton isn't sure if her white high-heeled shoes aren't more attractive stacked on her head or hanging from her neckline, and she's prone to excited laughter. Iris Erez is often desperate, closer to tears. Yaniv Cohen views himself as a dapper lounge lizard; a little gesture he repeats at his chest looks as if he's winding himself up to be the ideal partner. Stiff, he smooths his hair, his eyebrows, takes a comb and mirror from his pocket. But except for one final slow dance with Erez off to the side in the dark, he can't quite connect with others' movements. He falls away or hits someone as if by accident or goes off to groom himself. In an unbridled moment, his long hair, unbound, is appropriated by Kolton, who presses back against him and drapes his locks becomingly over her shaved head.

Someone is always dancing obsessively. In one alarming duet, Kolton and Shahar Brown (another woman with a shaved head, dressed mannishly in trousers and a Hawaiian shirt) slam into a corner together. Pushing and pulling lands them in ungainly, unconstructive positions with each other, the shoes, and a lollipop. Even the music sounds damaged. At the end, soprano Re'ut Ben-Ze'ev, wearing a shiny blue dress, enters singing, as if to re-consecrate the hall. But she's as lost as everyone else.

An anatomical drawing of a heart graces the cover of the program for Melissa Briggs's early May concerts at the Cunningham Studio. No surprise. I think about hearts often during the evening, and not just the abstract red shapes that the four women of her expanded Citystory pull out of little pockets in their own and one another's blouses. In Briggs's in-progress Trio Part 1, Toni Melaas, Mindy Nelson, and Molly Wilson wear red pants beneath their gray dresses (by Nelson), and their skirts are lined in red. When Nelson yanks the two other dancers ahead of her across the floor and all three tumble, the flashes of red seem to reveal the controlled turbulence of their friendship and resonate with the deep-hearted singing of Bach's Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor.

Briggs's spare new duet Armistice makes you sense hearts breaking behind proper behavior. Train sounds in the score, created by Karinne Keithley (sampling wisps of Debussy), and two chairs set side by side suggest a station platform. Nelson, with her hat, coat, sensible heels, and suitcase, is a woman—a wife perhaps—about to leave a man (John Beasant III). Although there are a few almost violent moments, most of the time the two are reticent (think Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter). They stay close to the chairs. He puts his hand on her knee, she bends to kiss the hand. In one arresting moment, she starts to move away; he grips her shoes and, without breaking her stride, she simply walks out of them. At the end, when the train sound gets louder, just before the lights go out, she stiffens and arches slightly back, heart-struck.

In all of Briggs's choreography, flow is guided through strong, vital structures of feeling. Two duets have been interpolated into Citystory since it was shown at Bax a year ago. The women in this piece look like members of a strange sisterhood, with their blackened eyes and the black lines that run from their chins to the bodices of their costumes. They twist into quite formal quartets and duets to the wonderfully tempestuous music of singer-composer Cat Martino and her band. The new parts explore the rivalrous relations between Melaas and Nelson, and the violence when, in a window of light, Kelly Bartnik tries to take Donna Costello's "heart." In the revised 2001 Epilogue, Melaas, Nelson, Stephanie Liapis, and Katie Ford pull unseen oars together as if they were part of one organ, one family.

How useful is it to speak of someone as "Asian"? National, even regional, differences defy generalizing. Joyce S. Lim from Malaysia and Nami Yamamoto from Japan explored their differences, their similarities, and the stereotypes thrust upon them in their 2002 Wan Dollah? Their recent In/Flux broadens these issues—asking us also to consider how immigrants are perceived and how they alter in a new environment.

The two approach their serious subjects with wild-woman rambunctiousness. With the help of Sweet & Sour Production and Matt Heyner, they turned Danspace St. Mark's into a playground. Spectators, divided into two groups, face one another across tiny bamboo fences, two suspended rectangles, and three arrangements of brightly colored balls, pyramids, and boxes. In the beginning, Lim, who teaches tai chi chuan, squats—charged but motionless—outside this area, holding a pole. You may only know she's moved when you hear the thwack of her stick on one of the rectangles. Yamamoto, on the other hand, rests only a little between launching martial-arts attacks against two toddler-sized plastic Coke cans. She's the one who then swings a pole and, staring blankly into space, knocks down everything in sight; so long, old world. Lim uncritically picks up after her. With the sounds of voices, traffic, and so on, composer Guy Yarden conjures up landscapes.

The two women examine us gazing at them; they're bold, even defiant, but also wary. When Yamamoto lies down and puts her head in Lim's lap, they both twist their necks to keep their eyes on us. Lim holds out a pole as if it were a mic to various audience members while harsh taped voices ask increasingly intrusive immigration-official questions, like "Have you ever been involved with espionage?" and "Have you ever been a prostitute?" (I'm paraphrasing). She also puts Yamamoto through a kind of drill, calling out "Hide!" and "Reveal!" in rapid alternation, while Yamamoto, throwing out her chest and arms or curling into a ball, struggles to keep up.

The two smart women shift between these and other events—plus big, emphatic dancing—as if someone kept calling out, "New game!" Dueling with Japanese fans or wielding feathery Chinese ones, they're sometimes united, sometimes rivalrous. And no one can look more lost than Yamamoto. As soon as they understand one set of rules or break down a boundary, a new one appears. How much should they hide, how much dare to reveal?

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