The “Altogether Different” festival is in full cry at the Joyce through January 28, and I’ll resist trying to define “different” (as in “different from what?”). The winter sampler has become a tradition.
In I’m Going to My Room to Be Cool Now and I Don’t Want to Be Disturbed, choreographer Mark Dendy celebrates the ’70s records he wore out as a kid. As his beguiling dancers preen and wag their pelvises in one another’s faces, a certain postmodern irony keeps showbiz slickness at a distance. This is not just because of Dendy’s choreographic gifts, the work’s offbeat touches, and the performers’ gusto. Expert as the dancers are, you can still see them as the sexy visions conjured by the music in the fertile imagination of a boy quietly rebelling against growing up drenched in Christian virtue.
When Timothy Bish shows us his muscles to Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” jolting straight up in the air as if electrified by his own hormonal charges, we see not just a virtuosic display of beefcake, but a kid in front of a mirror trying it all on. When golden girl Ashley Gilbert, opening in Janis Joplin’s “Summertime,” swings an elegant leg high, she seems pleased, as if the accomplishment were inadvertent. While Grace Slick’s unforgettable recorded voice careers through the escalating spirals of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” and Dale Knoth paints gray whirligigs and hallucinatory shadows with light, Gilbert, Nicole Berger, and Christalyn Wright stagger and giggle and cluster—a chorus of the stoned disguised as girls freaking out at a sleepover.
Dendy affirms his cheerful, anything-goes stance on gender and sexuality. Bish and Todd Anderson size each other up like aggressively friendly dogs and walk off hand in hand. Among those who strut like runway models around a square of light to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” is Steven Ochoa, in high-heeled ponyskin boots and a boa. Ochoa and backup dancers Anderson, Bish, and Lawrence Keigwin do a club act to Ike and Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary,” wearing longish skirts of black leather strips that twitch and swirl over their bare buttocks (the excellent costumes are by Bobby Pearce).
There are serious moments amid the witty, sexy bluster. Keigwin dances his own choreography with wonderful explosive desperation to Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.” And while Janis Joplin wails for her Mercedes-Benz, Berger, wearing a hooded sweatsuit, jerks and crumples and reaches out in a pool of light, as if there were no bottom to her craving.
John Jasperse’s work reflects a very different aspect of the ’70s: the radical experiments with form that enlivened sectors of downtown dance and reframed the ’60s’ interest in pedestrian movement. When, in Jasperse’s wonderful 1997 Waving to You From Here, he and Jennifer Allen, kneeling, arrange and rearrange small stacks of books in perfect synchrony, the common task acquires the sheen of a precision drill. The irony is compounded by one uncommon element: the temporary parking of a book in each of their mouths.
Even the most heated acts are cooled by repetition: Parker Lutz positioning Juliet Mapp as if she were a big doll by grasping her neck, Mapp blocking Allen’s attempts to climb the steps at the back. It’s a bleak piece. James Lo’s sound score is faintly menacing even at its quietest; an overhead ceiling of metal screens descends foot by clanking foot, reducing the scale of the possible tasks and eventually obliterating these spectators of the apocalypse.
Waving to You From Here was originally presented alone. For this Joyce program, Jasperse added another, briefer work, Scrawl (premiered in 1999 at the American Dance Festival). It suffers a bit in comparison. It’s a fine piece, just not as rich as the older work or his recent, more sensual Fort Blossom. A robotic voice offers idiotic guidelines for public speakers; later the voice, as it emerges through Lo’s sound score very slightly more human, intones familiar pairs (meat and potatoes, death and transfiguration, Sonny and Cher, etc.). For a long time, Jasperse, Lutz, Mapp, and Miguel Gutierrez stand with their backs to us—each facing a fabric pillar elegantly lit by Stan Pressner—and build a pattern with rapid, angular flicks of their arms. Gradually they add turns, other gestures, and finally bigger, dancier movements, designed with Jasperse’s characteristic austerity and performed with matter-of-fact clarity. Rolls of linoleum—red on one side, white on another—unfurl into carpets they lie on and pull about. Jasperse may see life as an endless process of rearranging the known, but he can make it look deeply satisfying.
Wally Cardona has no qualms about presenting a single 48-minute piece. That seems fine, because his new Trance Territory takes the dancers through a voluptuous ordeal of altered states and leaves them drained, with just enough energy to start walking toward the back wall as the lights go out. The dance is part rave, part primal ritual.
Working their supple, muscular bodies, waving and pumping their arms, Joanna Kotze, Kathryn Sanders, Matthew Winheld, and Cardona focus inwardly much of the time, sucked into a whirlpool of obsessive motion, light, and sound. Yet everything is crafted and somehow controlled. Abrasive as they sometimes are, the sounds that DJ $mall ¢hange, a/k/a James Dier, draws from his spinning platters have a certain refinement. So do Roderick Murray’s lighting effects. Sometimes red light suffuses a part of the stage, or white spots pick out four green paths or the red lines that define a rectangle. The dancers rip up dark tape to uncover these lines, like acolytes assisting at a rite. They gather to touch Kotze gently and clothe her in white. Later, when she collapses, they make a nest to pick her up. OK, she could have passed out on the dancefloor; she also could be a candidate for the oracle priestess.
The piece is all mystifying atmosphere and curious beauty. The four begin to thrash wearing bizarre scarlet face-covering helmets and dresses of woven red strips (by Jill Anderson); they change into black clothes, and finally into white ones. Sometimes they touch; occasionally two or more will huddle, clasped as if simultaneously embracing and sinking into the floor—although they do neither. Mostly, they’re isolated in their own trances or numbly watching others. At one point, while Cardona stands at the back of the stage lashing his arms and torso around, tall, gorgeous Sanders stands at the front and slowly, almost creakingly, sinks into a deep plié and then sits staring at us. After a while she lies down; when he’s finished, he comes and stands over her. But that dramatic moment, like so many others, doesn’t lead to any connection between them. She rises and starts turning slowly; he takes over her spot and builds to wildness.
When, near the end, three of them dance along the green paths, Kotze repeats the same oddly lovely phrase again and again and again, as if time has ceased to have any meaning to her. She doesn’t know she’s tired until she’s horizontal. But Trance Territory is no Rite of Spring. The ritual will happen again next Saturday night, and nothing will change.