Theater archives

Tenderness Two Ways


To see Lance Gries’s Dear Guardian, Farewell Grace is like switching on The Real World and finding the apartment topsy-turvy and everyone on some strange new drug. Mattresses climb the walls; an object resembling a huge swimming-pool skimmer stands in one corner; a small table on wheels suggests a piece of hospital equipment I’d rather not know about (Peter Melville designed this decor).

The most desirable mattress remains scruffy, even though people quite often smooth it ineptly. It gets walked on, dived on, and snuggled into. Isabelle Dekeyser even lies on it while Anatoly Vlassov is bumping around underneath. While a rather fugitive sound score by Andy Russ accents the aimlessness of this group of friends and lovers, David Fritz spookily alters their environment through light. Occasionally Gries and his fascinating international cast dance as if being shocked, but mostly they ramble about the place as if trying to decide what to do next. They change clothes often. Gries and Vlassov arm-wrestle. Gries unravels threads from a torn shirt; later Florence Augendre sews it. Celine Guillaume smooths her pregnant belly, and (envious?) Barbara Meneses strokes her own flat one.

Every action seems askew. A fish discovered in an envelope gets chewed on as if it were corn on the cob and stored under the bed for safekeeping. Gries drapes the household’s shared clothing onto motionless KT Niehoff until she’s a featureless bundle. To put a sweater on Dekeyser, who’s sticking both arms up like a toddler, someone has to sit on someone else’s shoulders. This is a sad, terrible place, but you’d almost like to crawl into that shabby bed and prepare yourself to battle or comfort these people. You might be helped, you might be ignored; the unexpected would become daily fare.

In his publicity, Gries characterizes his wry, fractured narrative of relationships as “a swan song to the notion of purity.” I’m not sure what he means, but I’ve never found his work pure, except in terms of its integrity. In this compelling and terrifying new piece, two performers picking fish bones out of their mouths becomes as important an event as dancing.

Like Gries, Gina Gibney has been presenting work since 1991. Her world is a very different place from his. It’s tidier and seemingly saner. Its denizens are all female, and the choreography loves them the way the movie camera loves certain beautiful women. But-although some of Gibney’s musical choices strike me as too drowsily pretty, as do a few of Stefani Mar’s costumes with floaty panels attached-there’s nothing sentimental about Gibney. She discovers tenderness in strength. You’d never call her choreography explosive, although it climbs toward turbulence at times; and she has an exquisite range of dynamic variety within an ambience that’s mostly gentle and low-keyed, managing a satisfying balance between fluidity and moments of stillness when the body’s lines grab the eye.

Gibney’s latest piece, Objects No Longer Present, deals elusively with memory. In the first section, the marvelous Aislinn MacMaster wanders through a forest of seven women, touching them or unseen shapes in the space around them. We see Angharad Davies, Kara Gilmour, Johanna Hegenscheidt, Marta Miller, Eden Mazer, and Jeanne Schickler as she sees them. She’s the leader, the summoner-up of recollections. Kathy Kaufmann lays evocative windows of light on the floor. Along a path of light, Miller and Mazer walk, twisting slowly to look back before they fall into a loving duet that grows increasingly daring in its dives and catches.

All is not serious. In a section called “Pointy Ladies,” MacMaster is stiff and tense, as if the plucked strings of Kevin Volans’s White Man Sleeps #1 were giving her nerves little shocks. Davies and Gilmour preen in on tiptoe, equally stiff, lashing black ribbons around. They contrive to bind MacMaster’s arms, show us their teeth in smiles that are first cousin to snarls, and stalk haughtily away.

In the comings and goings of these lovely women, Gibney concentrates on couple work. Ingenious as this is, I find myself missing other possible patterns the women might form. Captivated by them, I yearn to know them in more ways.