Theater archives

A Trick of the Light


We’re in the garage beneath Dance Theater Workshop, watching a wall of mirrors elevated like a movie screen. Reflected in that wall is a man sitting behind us on a bench placed on a high platform. A monitor suspended in front of us shows the same man and bench on the platform of a small rural train station; on another monitor beside it, another part of the platform is uninhabited.

The brilliant Double Track by Dutch choreographer Beppie Blankert alters our usual modes of perception. We see superb John Taylor (featured in Blankert’s stupendous Ives some years back) only in reflection as he restlessly rearranges himself on the bench and begins to cross and recross the platform. But we hear him behind us, feel the air stir, sense his heat.

Trains roar past at intervals, but none ever stops. Louis Andriessen’s score—first played by harpsichord alone, then by harpsichord and piano, then with the addition of celesta and chimes—stops for birdcalls, train sounds, and the silence of waiting. Taylor’s movements seem always on a tilt, as if the ground were as unstable as his identity. He speaks Samuel Beckett’s very short Text for Nothing no. 7: “I’d like to be sure,” he says quietly, “that I left no stone unturned in reporting me missing.” But who is “me”? And isn’t he really talking of “X”? How long has he been sitting here? How long will he sit? His ticket is valid for life. His dancing reflects the swing and wheel of his thoughts.

Suddenly another man materializes through him. This visitant (Christopher Steel), whose tiny image pops into the other monitor, appears tougher, more centered in his dancing. Yet he keeps fading out, as in a film (the extraordinary execution of two stages, with lighting magically turning mirror to window and back, is credited to Kees van Zelst and Charlotte de Bruijn). The two men feint; Taylor grasps air. But when Steel joins Taylor behind us, the two can plummet playfully into lifts as well as dodgy games. At the end, their dance styles combine, they mutter pleasantries we can’t hear and embrace as separate beings. Just when you think Blankert’s resolution cheerier than Beckett’s ” . . . the time [is] come for me too to begin,” both men vanish.

On a more modest scale, a young American, Ariane Anthony, tackles another short Beckett text, Stirrings Still, that hints at similar separations and echoes of self: “One night as he sat at his table head on hands he saw himself rise and go.” Anthony’s Seeing I opens with three men at a table, sitting stacked on a single chair, their heads in their hands. In very short scenes, separated by slightly overlong blackouts but linked by John Stone’s sensitive piano score, the men (Peter Campbell, Jackson Kent, and Brendan McCall) perform the few simple actions mentioned in the text. Together or in turn, they stare at their hands, sneeze, react to a zinnia thrown from nowhere; they stand on a stool and look up at a high window that casts light on the floor (lighting designer Sarah Sidman and set designer Peter Wahlberg work miracles in the tiny Construction Company loft). Every time the lights come on, the table is in a different place, or has disappeared behind black panels. This shifting and the minimal action by the men in shirtsleeves and suspenders have a haunted poignancy, a sense of absence as presence.

Anthony’s other premiere, Why Imagine Golden Birds? (also with music composed and performed by Stone), is almost as spare, but has more “dance.” For this, the panels and back wall are white, the better to receive projected slides of luscious skies and foliage. Taking as her inspiration Wallace Stevens’s blunt, delicate poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” Anthony presents a poetic sketch of a small-town, turn-of-the-century society (costumes by Christopher Fields). As people pass—almost float through—in brief vignettes, we only half grasp their stories, but sense characters: the loving couple (McCall and Amit Hadari), the spinster busybody (Andrea Thome), the adventurous little girl on the cusp of puberty (remarkable Natalie Desch), the young scholar (Kent), the solitary dreamer/blackbird (Anthony). “I do not know which to prefer,/The beauty of inflections/Or the beauty of innuendoes,” writes Stevens. Reading the poem afterward makes me feel the dance—all innuendo and inflection—more strongly.

Anthony’s an unusual talent. Her 1998 solo Gasoline is like a silent-movie day in the life of a passionate eccentric. The three fancily garbed women in the 1999 Low Altitude emerge from a stylish pen to act up like little girls playing lady. In both these dances, attitudes, activities, and focuses change with the speed of jump cuts, each moment inscrutably, intriguingly intense.