The Chuck Close portraits on display at Pace Wildenstein Soho are admirable accomplices to Jonathon Appels’s choreography. Close’s paintings of faces fill the frame; your eye flips between seeing a whole face and seeing the flow of vivid patterned modules that compose it. Appels’s dances are like that—atomizing the whole and making the space effervescent with motion. The solos and duets Appels showed at the gallery suggest explorations of an emotional and physical terrain. In accord with observations by Appels’s favorite philosopher, Edmund Husserl, about the body being in continuous motion, the dancers rarely pause. The choreographer keeps their feet and legs busy with sweeping kicks and tricky articulations, often balletic in origin. But he has a modern dancer’s fascination with the off-kilter and the weighted.
In Missions Built and Occupied, Appels cultivates Bradon McDonald’s gift for suspending movements (perhaps gained as a Limón dancer). The melting adagios and harsh harpsichord flourishes of 17th-century composer Heinrich Biber underscore the image of a Dionysian adventure. Like McDonald, Brock Labrenz, in Painted Rock Cliff, seems to see and respond to a landscape. He’s faunlike, with that enticing raw edge that comes from pushing skill to a point almost beyond control. But where McDonald seems to stalk pleasure, Labrenz is menaced by forces that disturb his calm and set him thrashing and snatching and pushing big, bad things away.
In three duets, Appels explores the enigma of couples. McDonald rarely takes his eyes off Gabriele Malone (of Twyla Tharp’s late, lamented company). In Stars Pushed Across His Eyes, she’s sensuous but oddly distant, so we see unison as an accident and canon as a subliminal response. Their winding, collusive lifts emerge from momentum. In Stanza, Malone’s the warm one, especially in a quite gorgeous solo, but when she joins Lian Martin, she might as well be alone. Martin—elegantly accurate, tense in the upper torso—is a cool cookie.
five-blue smoke pairs two young New York City Ballet men, Ryan Kelly and Craig Hall. Kelly is light, clear, flirtatious—glinting brocade to Hall’s velvet (resiliency mates wonderfully with precision in Hall’s dancing). To a somewhat disconcerting medley that includes Brahms and Whitney Houston, the two dance alone and together with inquiring tenderness.
Appels’s is a choreography of excess. But imaginative and dynamically variegated, it almost never seems like too much.
Scott Heron begins his P.S. 122 program with a mesmerizing interpretation of Deborah Hay’s 1995 Exit. To the famous adagio from Samuel Barber’s String Quartet, he crosses the room. Slowly. Gazing at his destination, turning to stare at where he’s come from. The movement is minimal. He extends his arms without seeming to reach, as if he were sensing what’s happening inside them. When he’s gone, you feel maybe the journey has worked a miracle.
Heron’s own works have no such single-mindedness. The Water is like an aborted tour through one of those moist, short-story Southern towns where everyone’s an eccentric. One side of the area is cluttered, sunless: the rug, the old red lamps, the brocade-covered platforms, the bouquets, David Herrigel’s rosy lighting. You can hardly see composer-bassoonist Leslie Ross. Queen of this domain is DD Dorvillier, whose head pops out of a box. She tries to remember the alphabet, tells a tale, looks disapproving. But she also clucks like a hen, and fresh streams run on four monitors. In one of Ross’s sound installations, water and pennies drip from suspended ice.
The opposite side of this three-ring circus is a white-curtained semicircle where Cathy Weis, in a checkered outfit, and Heron, bare-legged, booted, and wearing a scraggly wig, do a desultory country dance; later a grave and focused little girl in a boy’s suit (Zane Frazer) dances with a woman in a sparkly white dress (Cydney Pullman); later still, Jennifer Monson and Dorvillier, in white Grecian tunics, evoke post-Isadora amateur gambols.
On a central trapeze, a cop (Tanya Gagné) gradually strips during her feats. Heron walks on a slack rope, with a nose mike conveying the rasp of his breathing. While Weis sings in country-nasal style, Frazer—garbed in black boots and a white party dress—plays violin. Pullman shakes maracas, Ross provides unholy din, and Dorvillier’s head emits a boing! whenever an accent is needed.
This is not a show in which you wonder why, say, Monson and Dorvillier form a knot and put on black socks. The principal unifying motif among the myriad visions is a gunshot. Curiously, despite all the enthralling stuff going on, I still expect something to happen that never does—maybe because almost everything is a fragment, as if these acts had been rejected for some cosmic show and condemned to float around eternity.
Whoops! Michael Gordon, not Peter, composed the music for Eliot Feld’s nodrog doggo.