To be a parent is to squelch your what-ifs before you go nuts. “What if he drowns?” “What if a stranger drags her into a car?” Susan Marshall’s tender and haunting piece, The Most Dangerous Room in the House, presented at BAM Majestic, is built on such small alarms—thoughts that at tack unbidden. Small, nimble, sixtyish actress Norma Fire races about, keeping track of the dancers, joining their activities, holding them, pulling them; she’s the Catcher in the Rye, and these beautiful young people will fall over the edge of the world unless she stops them. “NO!” she shouts.
But Marshall tells no stories. She doesn’t identify Fire’s character; she doesn’t try to make us see one dancer as a sister or another as a husband. Hints of relationships swell up on a tide of memories, retreat, and resurface pulled apart. David Lang’s rich, churning music (played live by the Bang on a Can All-Stars) may suddenly yield the sound of dripping water. Occasional words (by Christopher Renino) that Fire speaks shift in meaning. A sentence about a knife splitting a melon, repeated with subtle changes, becomes suddenly about sex. Or childbirth. Or abortion. A child in a pool…has she drowned, or is it the way she’s floating and a trick of the light that stop a mother’s heart? Sometimes performers wear Kasia Walicka Maimone’s silvery clothes in stead of her lovely warmer-hued ones; at such times, they seem ghostly, or somehow elsewhere.
Although there are always people running or passing through with big, soft, uncomplicated dancing, the place is pitted by obstacles. In the beginning, Kristen Hollins worth, Krista Langberg, Eileen Thomas, and Fire rear range themselves against a freestanding wall; sometimes a force so strong slams them at it that one of them is lifted off the ground. A single chair or another’s limbs become fences to crawl through. Langberg clamps her self onto Omar Rahim, but leans out awkwardly, anchored by his hand hooked around her forehead. At the big, angled wall created when stage hands join two smaller ones (Douglas Stein and Zhanna Gurvich are credited with set design), Hollins worth, reading a book, wanders away to a chair; each time, Mark DeChiazza grabs her and hurls her back against the wall until Marlon Barrios Solano rescues her from this cycle.
Stagehands not only move walls; to ward the end they pry Langberg from an embrace and carry her to a ramp they’ve made by tipping a wall. Later they lug her offstage, like the anonymous policemen or caretakers who sometimes intrude into family life. But looming larger than any of the actual obstacles are those that rise between what happened and what we believe happened. In the final moment, Fire remembers seeing “Jean,” in the window, smile and raise her arm. Safe. Happy. Loving. Opposite her on the ramp, Eileen Thomas stares motion less. Whose is the gesture, whose the memory?
Marshall doesn’t compose elaborate dance steps. She has a rare gift for transmuting everyday movements and drives into poetry. A man reaches out, a woman touches another’s waist; we know these acts. She makes them luminous.
For almost 20 years, the company Terry Creach founded with Stephen Koester has been disproving George Balanchine’s assertion that if you put a bunch of men onstage, “it’s no body.” At the beginning of Creach’s new Boy’s Town, five guys line up, facing across the Joyce Soho. They watch calmly while Peter Schmitz assaults their formation, bumping into it, wedging himself between people, grabbing onto them. Staggering, harried, compelling, Schmitz looks as if life has worn him down yet made him anything but smooth. When the others finally do move, they periodically cling to him, all of them, while he thunders around the space—a mad relative they’re trying to restrain or a hero they’re empowered by touching. Later, when he and Creach embark on a series of considered challenges, he twice contemplates a villainous attack from behind and drops the idea.
In Creach/Company, physical contact can stand for all of life’s interchanges. These men, plus alumni who join them at each performance, use one another’s bodies as fences to vault over, bridges to slide under, beds to rest on. Watch them going full steam, and you see a constant resilient flow, every move triggering or responding to others, every man responsible for his buddies even while he’s daring them to bolder maneuvers.
Andy Teirstein’s music for Par Terre, recorded by a string ensemble, is sweeter than Fast Forward’s score for Boy’s Town. And these men are more mannerly—at least the first two, Paul Matteson and Richard Patten, who hold hands with the delicacy of an 18th-century ballroom couple. Mostly walking or running, they trace the Z patterns of a minuet—passing chest to chest (in a real minuet, this moment seethes with genteel eroticism). Engaging in this lovely dialogue, which has only a trace of the usual athleticism, the men seem intriguingly out of sync with their own gestures; their arms slash out, then go soft, their heads turn elsewhere. In a second duet, Maurice Fraga and Lionel Popkin are less constrained, more apt to tumble about. When all four assemble, Creach plays masterful games with mirror images breaking apart and recombining. Pace Balanchine, you don’t simply—ho hum—watch men at play; you see a little world.
Here’s the first, and key, image in Megatron’s multisection Fetish. The Marymount Manhattan curtain opens to reveal two men sitting on their female partners’ heads, feet tucked up so you can almost believe they’ve been standing on the women’s shoulders and have just squatted for a rest. Between the couples (Krista Miller and Dan Weltner, Megan Brazil and Alexander Mikhail) vamps Eva Carrozza in red satin; when an apple descends on a wire, she licks it meaningfully.
The premises of Megatron are that women are strong, and that life is an athletic business. (On the side, choreographer Brazil has launched
The Martha Graham Workout at New York Sports Clubs, and company co director Weltner has devised Equi-Stretch, an exercise video for equestrians.) Using physical prowess as a metaphor, Fetish lobs cheerfully ironic darts at pop stereotypes. Amid the quick-change effects, it’s sometimes hard to figure the point of view. If this is
social criticism, it’s got a touch of ADD, but as entertainment, its mind is on the prize.
We may never know exactly what Carrozza represents at any given time, but clad in a skintight, black-net unitard, she’s a compelling sight.
There are some thin moments at the beginning, though it’s a nice touch when the apron-clad women raise oven mitts so their dominant, honey-I’m-home mates can park their cigarettes while watching Carrozza strip or dancing to Bobby Sichran’s usefully eclectic score. In this world, anyone can be a weight lifter. Or a sex object. Weltner jiggles his pecs and
buttocks at the appreciative women; Mikhail strips to a teeny black jockstrap, then dons a tutu. Doggy images abound: men’s neckties elongate into leashes; if a person on all fours passes a per son who’s upright, a crotch sniff is in order.
The heart of the work is an overlong but arresting duet in which Weltner stands on Brazil’s stomach and coils around her body. He’s like a very large baby—passive but not limp, holding on to her (unless she’s got him, as she often does, draped over her shoulder in a fireman’s carry). The slow, smooth maneuvers comment on those modern ballet duets in which the man never allows his partner to touch the ground; the reverse image conjures up less manipulative romance than maternal burdens.
Oddly, the only moment when two people treat each other tenderly and as equals comes in a gently erotic floor duet for Brazil and Miller. The women have no agenda but to keep their bodies dreamily winding together in curious ways. It’s a contrast to the rest of Fetish, in which theatricality, some clever devices, and the performers’ endearing ebullience cloak fairly obvious aperçus.