Old winter solstice rituals simply made sure spring would come again. Millennial festivities and dread-suffused preparations are another matter. What is it we hope will return, stay, vanish?
Lisa Kron, her sturdy figure svelted up in black satin, gets a lump in her throat when she anxiously introduces Susan Marshall’s The Descent Beckons at the Joyce. The piece is rife with moments as beautiful as MC Kron says, and as bleak as she implies. Desperately millennial, The Descent refers to primal rites involving victims and scapegoats, and juxtaposes festivities to awful acts. The performers yank and hurl selected individuals around in a dance that’d be eerily lovely if it weren’t so terrifying. Wearing glittery clothes by Kasia Walicka Maimone, they strut in inventive chorus lines, sometimes with the life-size inflatable dolls that overpopulate the work. These dolls appear above a half-mast curtain to form a comic swaying chorus while Kron sings “The Way You Look Tonight”; by the end, they’ve been violently deflated.
Marshall’s gift for movement that looks organic and repetition that nails its message to your heart endows passages of Descent with the expected power. However, although the dolls are integral, they eventually sideline the work’s force. It’s the people who enthrall us, whom we care about: Kron, Mark DeChiazza, Kristen Hollinsworth, Krista Langberg, Omar Rahim, Marlon Barrios Solano, and Eileen Thomas. Often, flying dummies take our attention off those who wield them and what they feel. And though Marshall’s apotheosis suggests renewal, the strongest image she leaves us with is wrinkled lengths of pink plastic.
** Retrospectives tidy up the past and set a tone for the future. Pooh Kaye’s solo Home Life of a Wildgirl looks much as it did in 1979—Kaye’s still rambunctious, toting her house of boards like an inept hermit crab and crashing them down like pickup sticks in a no-win game—except the girl is now a woman and smiles warmly at her own vagaries.
Her new The Disastrous Act displays the same humor, vitality, and awkward impetuosity. However, it has a theatrical polish that is due in part to its engaging performers, David Roe and Ariane Merz, and in part to Jaap Blonk’s dazzling taped vocalization of Kurt Schwitters’s gibberish text The Ursonata. The danced relationship responds to the text’s coos, mutters, and shrieks. Basically, Roe has to figure out what to do with a woman who emerges from a pumpkin patch with a pumpkin over her head. How about jumping up, squatting on her bent-over back, and gesturing her onward, while the voice growls something like “Rrrrrumpf til toe”? Nope. When he collapses from crazed leaping, she bites him awake.
The 1985 Swept Up, with Roe and Merz banging around, in, and on top of two garbage cans, becomes more an engaging, witty drama about risk and one-upmanship than the wacky task it once was. In Kaye’s dances, a performer’s likely to spend a lot of time on all fours or upended in a kinky cartwheel or butting someone. But in a sweet new duet, He and She, for Roe and silky guest artist Daria Fain, their bodies dovetail a shade more gently, and they snuggle like puppies in a basket. A little mellowing on Kaye’s part, a little influence from current trends in theatricality?
** Economic good sense—enticing a larger public to dance—may underlie DTW’s Public Imaginations program, which presented Peggy Peloquin’s Tender: The Nurse’s Project. But more than pragmatism prompts a project like Peloquin’s. These days, some artists feel a need to connect dancing to the larger world picture.
Peloquin collaborated for two years with 10 women—five nurses and five dancers—on this rich, funny, deeply touching piece. Lone male Peter Richards also made the effective video that backs the stage with views of chill hospital corridors. At first the dancing seems extrinsic. Why ask dancers to roll facelessly on the floor, while the nurses—talking, bustling—become fascinating individuals? But before long, the two populations are intimately entwined: dancers as patients, nurses as patients, nurses as dancers; both tending, both bereaved.
In succinct monologues, the nurses (two of them also trained dancers) tell of their prayers, their feelings about their jobs, their repressed anger, their sorrow when a patient dies. Their words are often embedded in motion: racing to catch bodies before they fall, rocking the dying, making screens and hammocks out of sheets. All concerned perform wonderfully. R.N. Lynn Le Gall, an ample woman, suddenly catches a leaping dancer in her arms, and her 35 years of experience show in her strength, her calmness, her being there.
Unlike some people, I don’t worry that in the coming century community-based work will drag the art form’s standards down. In Tender, dance as “high art” and dance as everyone’s birthright come together in heartening ways.