Master juggler Michael Moschen (at the Joyce through Sunday) makes keeping three balls in the air look like something you could do while planning a palace coup or waiting for your toast to pop up. At such times, he’s a pure entertainer, slightly impish, sharing with the audience the wit of switching patterns in the air or altering his gaze.
At other times, he’s not only the consummate artist, but a magician. For certain numbers, Dave Feldman’s lighting creates a dark cavern laced with smoky rays, and David Van Tieghem’s music turns eerie. In a mesmerizing signature piece, Moschen, utterly absorbed, caresses crystal balls, making them roll around in his hands, peak into a wedding cake, glide from palm to palm. Using his arms and flexible fingers gently, he can coax a ball to roll around and sit on the back of his hand. When he has eliminated all but one ball, that last one appears to hang in the air in front of him as he strokes it.
At certain moments, he seems to be surrounded by an aura of flying objects. And when he throws balls against the sides of an upright triangle and catches them on the rebound, keeping three in motion, he’s so fast that the eye can’t ever catch him without a ball in his hand. He is also quite literally surrounded by objects. Sometimes the stage looks like a playground cum sculpture park. While he’s offstage changing into another plain gleaming outfit (by Mei-Ling Louie), we can watch large sculptures with moving parts (one looks like a giant astrolabe by Disney) or chuckle over a swift parade of balls rolled by invisible hands.
Some of Moschen’s numbers are built on circus principles of escalation and contrast. He plays with a small silver wand, making it appear to grow and shrink, twirling it like a baton. Two wands become clock hands, spinning and popping into right-angled designs that he pretends to be surprised by; a three-dimensional triangle of wands whirls into magical shapes. Moschen alternates the wand events with revolving arrow-tipped batons taller than he is. In another piece, he strokes a small hoop into motion, makes two larger ones dance, mates the small one with a wand, and finally dances within a huge hula hoop.
Recently, he has been working with cylinders, which offer one more possibility than balls: They can be both rolled and flipped. A big can filled with something like rice rattles as it is inverted. Moschen presents this object in what seems almost an engrossing work in progress. Seated, he attends to the complicated business of juggling a red ball and flipping the can in a sequence until the ball lands on top of the can. Then he incorporates into the pattern the sweeping action of rolling the ball down and up a series of wooden arcs (miked, I think, but not very decisively). I’m enthralled by his rhythmic work. He not only throws three balls against the miked sides of the big wooden triangle to create rhythms but also steps inside the triangle and adds his own skillfully tapping feet to the pattern. In another sequence—less of a complete piece of choreography—he makes music by hurling balls against a handsome drum, taking into account that, thrown a certain way, they will rebound off a suspended metal plate.
We speak of driven people as “keeping several balls in the air.” They do a lot of metaphorical snatching and diving. Moschen presents juggling as a poetic affirmation of equilibrium, unifying the person with the task, the minute-by-minute goal with the overarching pattern.
Pat Catterson and Tina Croll are old and good friends, having met 30 years ago in Merce Cunningham’s dance classes. Sharing a program, “Remembering the Funky Chicken” (at St. Mark’s last week), they embody that friendship in several playful interludes—imitating or challenging each other, reading iffy past reviews aloud and then balling them up and stuffing them into each other’s mouths. They’re a vital combo: Catterson down-to-earth and scrappy, a postmodernist with tap shoes in her bag; Croll serenely lovely, a 1960s adventuress who travels into the subject of spiritual experience and taps her feet in Balkan folk dancing.
Their concert, although dauntingly long, offered some intensely pleasurable visions. Catterson’s 1999 Geography, to a lively original score by David Karagianis, is simply about spruce patterns made by eight dancers with or without yellow balls (not knowing who will toss one when is part of the intrigue). In Croll’s Walkabout Part 3, Jean Bromage and Spela Sterle pace out interlacing designs on the floor and dance in sprightly unison to traditional music from Turkmenia, played live by Marian Eines and Catherine Foster of the wonderful Balkan brass band Zlatne Uste. There’s a strong “going” impulse in Croll’s pieces. The gradual changes from tranquil spinning to knotty explosions and exuberance in her 1997 solo Transit occur on top of a walking base.
Catterson’s sense of form creates drama without literal storytelling. In Within Reach, Michele Golden and Pascal Rekoert dance alone together, and Catterson lets us understand what they have in common before they do, when, at the last second and for the first time, they reach to grasp hands. In the new Belongings, women in overcoats cluster and rush about to music by John Taylor. One performer is a child. They seem stoic, but we somehow know that the big, wrenching moves the wonderful Slovenian dancer Sterle bursts into speak for all of them, for the anguish of displacement.
There’s wit in Catterson’s other premiere—it could be about a career, it could be about a life. But her daring choice of music—the arietta from Beethoven’s late, great, heart-expanding Sonata in C Minor, op. 111—makes her little flurries of soft shoe, her mimed gestures of opening windows and stepping through, and the way she reaches up to gather armloads of air seem poignant and profound. She watches as others enter, also opening doors and climbing through windows. “Oh . . . just dancing,” she informs a friend at the other end of an imaginary phone line, as the crowd leaps and clumps and waves goodbye to the rear wall. The dancers bow, elbowing one another out of the limelight, and disappear over the risers at the back while she shuts door after invisible door.
Croll’s new Balkan Landscape merges her choreography with terrific folk dances and music by Zlatne Uste (under the direction of Michael Ginsburg). Croll creates elegant images related to the gentler side of Balkan folk dancing, like a pattern of four women running in pairs, with subtle rhythmic blips and foot quirks. But nothing can quite match the joy of 11 brass instruments and drums blasting you to heaven, or of watching a line of men—stout and skinny, young and graying—grasp one another’s belts and whip through the tricky moves of the Kopanica in 11/16 meter, feet stamping and hopping, knees pumping faster than you’d believe reasonable. The audience couldn’t wait to jam with them. Talk about the “Funky Chicken”!