Tossing Gender Overboard


Odysseus had one hell of a time getting home to Ithaca. Did his crew ever wonder if the ship was going in circles? Aboard the Yankee, a trim antique ferry, we spectators at Clarinda Mac Low’s Odd Sea (The Return) also experience circularity. “Haven’t we been here before?” we wonder as we trudge along the decks, climb the companionways, crowd into the main cabin, and parade out again-lured by the siren call, “Follow!” The prow where we flock to watch the tricky hero hook elbows and knees over the railings in agonies of frustration is also the island where his patroness Athena tells him he’d better make nice with Nausicaa if he hopes to get home again.

Cross-gendered casting and performers playing multiple roles increase the sense of déjà vu. Jennifer Harmon is the tough, wiry Odysseus. Valerie Vitale’s Penelope flings herself into a strikingly desperate dance, while Kristin Stuart’s Penelope weaves an eerie vocalise around her. With hairily timed costume changes, Christiane Esteves, James Ferguson, Amanda Loulaki, and Carmelita Naval handle five roles each.

Mac Low is noted for her integration of performers, space, and audience. The voyage that she and her colleagues take brings Homer’s hero into our world. The characters wear offbeat modern clothes by Lynn Marie Ruse. Their voices and Rebecca Moore’s music mingle companionably with the cries of volleyball players on the pier below. Video images by Mike Taylor haunt the tattered sails. Telemachus (Andrea Kleine) appears on monitors, puking in the palace toilet after Penelope’s suitors have gotten him drunk. Calypso (Ruse) doesn’t have to magic Odysseus; she can sling him over her shoulder. Penelope writes on a computer and deletes by night.

Although Mac Low gives us the basics of Homer, her script might startle him. Surly veterans of the Trojan War drunkenly meditate on the horrors of violence. Odysseus wonders if it mightn’t be better to forgive the suitors, even though, hey, massacre has its appeal.

On opening night, it was sometimes difficult to hear. Esteves and Ferguson have fine, boisterous voices, while Harmon and the vocally underpowered Athena (Athena Molloy) tended to drop the ends of lines. Despite the sophisticated use of media, Odd Sea isn’t slick. Its charm derives from its mix of wit, sagacity, and a touch of the ramshackle. We watchers-constantly uprooted, crowding to see-experience the discomfort and disorientation of the characters, softened by the mild rocking of the boat and the balmy September night.

**We talk a lot about men getting in touch with their female nature and women asserting their masculine side, but this is primarily a human construct (dogs and cats reveal “gender-appropriate” behavior only when mating or nursing litters). What I like about Terry Creach’s all-male company is its range of behavior. The dancers can be manipulative. As Body Politic begins, two men bat a third back and forth, but as this motif develops and three more people enter, the pushes, pulls, levering, and acrobatic vaulting spool into a pattern, and negotiations between active and passive shift so rapidly that they become almost invisible.

Creach’s new piece explores shifts of authority, building comradely, cooperative values into intrepid choreography and acquainting us with wonderful dancers: Maurice Fraga, Olase Freeman, Paul Matteson, Lionel Popkin, and Creach himself; each has a moment in the limelight. One intriguing section gives a taste of how they work. Creach starts a gesture, and the others, falling one by one into a diagonal behind him, respond-improvising countercurrents, filling vacuums, balancing or unbalancing the design. Andy Russ, who created the score, makes provocative choices: a bit of Latin music, a military tattoo overlaid with folk song, an ominously escalating wave of sound.

The Kitchen program represents a collaboration between Creach/Company and Tiempo de Bailar, a Mexico-based troupe headed by Vicente Silva Sanjines. But the only mingling occurs in two improvised duets pairing dancers from the different groups by drawing names from hats. Opening night, these duets are raucous, playful, with an engaging amount of what-next eyeballing.

I wonder if the names of Tiempo de Bailar’s two women were in the hat at all. In this company, they’re occasionally segregated. At one point in El Buitre (The Vulture), Blanca Garza and Cristina Maldonado, in little black dresses, gyrate with furious abandon at the back of the stage, while Eduardo Gonzalez, Alberto Perez, and Silva bravely strip down to their shorts.

The dancers match Creach’s in athleticism, although much of the time they seem isolated from one another, each focused on an individual mission or a burst of temperament. I like watching the vignettes captured in on-and-off pools of light. A man carries a suitcase, a woman holds a birdcage. A man engages in slow, crooked handstands while another applauds like a kid at a party. One person knights another. Two guys start to kiss; one turns away, giggling in embarrassment. Silva attempts to converse with Maldonado while wearing a diving mask. What holds the dance together is not any apparent overall scheme, but surprises born of disjunction, and the charm of its parts and performers.

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