Four women, identically clad in plain black frocks by Narciso Rodriguez, their hair concealed under black bandannas, cross the Joyce stage one by one in Rosane Chamecki and Andrea Lerner’s Poor Reality. What a walk! They rock their hips back and forth as they reach out a leg, and once they’ve changed feet, they settle momentarily into one hip. Awkward, rangy, single-minded, they make me think of cows.
The subject of the Brazilian pair’s austere new collaboration is identity. Two hanging panels stage right, one behind the other, reflect what passes in front of them. For Chamecki, Lerner, Maria Hassabi, and Christine Latici, the stage’s fourth wall also functions as a mirror. Latici scrutinizes herself in quadruplicate; if she suddenly looks behind her, the others freeze, as in a kids’ game. Even when they assume “ugly” poses, their every move is succinct and chiseled. Sitting on the floor with their legs spraddled and their gazes fixed ahead, they edge from side to side like crabs for so long that the vision burns into your brain.
A bit of text, slightly hard to follow, amid Dusty Trails’ score asks questions about a “she” (Latici and a taped voice do the talking). But how can we be sure who “she” is, this woman whose “mouth is so dishonest”? The distinctions between self and reflection, between self and others begin to blur. In profile, the women slip into a shifting chain of actions: kiss, shove, stretch out a hand, grab another’s chin, laugh, double over. With the help of Stan Pressner’s superb lighting, the panels become transparent as well as reflective. Four women turn into five. No, six. A maze of selves. Intense questions hang in the air, yet the tone of the piece remains contemplative, as if the women, mesmerized, have entered the mirrors and accepted them as the world.
Fans of the “Martha @ Mother” series did their best to turn Town Hall into a club for Richard Move’s performance there January 20. The cramped little dive where the series originated had a certain je ne sais quoi, but it was nice to see our cabaret hostess, a soft-voiced, soignée six-foot-five Martha Graham (Move), in a space where her imposing chignon doesn’t practically brush the ceiling and her vengeful chorus of Furies is not in danger of hitting the walls.
“Martha” may raise her painted eyebrows or roll her eyes in ladylike dismay at the rampages of postmodernism, but Move presents innovation as well as historical parody. Merce Cunningham dances a brief and riveting chair solo before reminiscing about his days as Graham’s second leading man. Meredith Monk unleashes her uncanny voice in some of her compositions. “CrutchMaster” Bill Shannon performs a marvel of soft fluid maneuvers on crutches; it looks like break dancing gone to heaven. And David Neumann and Stacy Dawson convulse us with excerpts from their Pearl River, their rivalrous court-and-kill moves set bewitchingly in and out of sync with a martial-arts movie soundtrack.
“Martha” is fond of remembering that Cunningham and Paul Taylor were once her boys, and, as a historical treat, Sharon Kinney (an early Taylor dancer) revives Epic, a transgressive solo from Taylor’s 1957 concert featuring stillness and ordinary moves. To the recorded voice of a telephone operator giving the time, Kinney, in a dark suit, performs a range of interesting, clean-cut moves: She squats, assumes a stance, raises an arm slightly, walks to a new spot, and so on. Kinney is deft (although not quite deadpan enough), and the solo, keeping us aware of every passing second, is both maddening and compelling.
In a delicious pièce d’occasion, From Old Seville, Mark Morris, looking frowsy in a suit, and Lauren Grant, smart in heels and a revealing little black dress, embark on the Sevillanas, castanets crackling. Between coplas, they repair to a small table and drain glasses, then return to the fray, Morris becoming more visibly lubricated and impassioned, Grant ever cooler and more bored.
Move’s “Graham” pieces, like many good parodies, blend love of the subject with a wicked eye for its foibles. A degree of gaucheness or of dislocation lies at the heart of parody; knowledge of the subject has to be thorough, but the rendition can’t be a perfect copy of what it sends up. In Move’s final appearance in Lament, his bare male torso is visible under the famous stretch-jersey tube—as if to remind us that he is not Martha Graham, but has definitely gotten under her skin.
Karole Armitage has been working abroad for a number of years. The most recent piece of hers seen in New York, The Last Lap, was created for the White Oak Dance Project in 1999. The program Armitage Gone! Dance showed at the Joyce last week—mostly excerpts fading into one another—revealed her as a mature artist. She knows what she’s doing and does it with consummate skill, aided by eight marvelous dancers, most of whom either have worked with her in MaggioDanza di Firenze or will do so at the Ballet de Lorraine, where she is to be resident choreographer.
Much of the work shown resonates with Balanchine in Stravinsky mode. Legs flash high, point shoes stab the floor, men press women into extravagant and ingenious positions. I Had a Dream, set to somber baroque music, was commissioned by the Ballet de Monte Carlo in memory of Mr. B. Out of a heap in the floor rise a tutu-ed ballerina (Margherita Mana) and three watchful men in vivid harem pants, who revolve her as if they were weaving a notable flower into a garland. The severity of another duet’s manipulations references Balanchine’s Agon. Ana Gonzaga holds her foot up in front of her and above her head. Dmitri Domojirev grasps her, turns her, and lays her down still in that split. Balanchine also crops up in Tango Mortale, to music by Thomas Adès—not when Paola Fazioli jabs Domojirev in the midriff with her knee, but when he turns her in a maneuver similar to the “cello” one in Agon‘s third theme. In Life Story, vividly danced by New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans, Whelan whaps her leg back around her partner’s waist in a another Agon device: the attitude as snare. Armitage’s use of music, however, is more akin to her onetime boss Merce Cunningham’s than to Balanchine’s; she and her composers meander side by side, but not hand in glove.
In Nadaswaram, to world-music fusion by Talvin Singh, Armitage ventures into fusion of her own: ballet, Bharata Natyam, and hip-hop. It’s both beguiling and disconcerting: Jack Cole plays hopscotch with Balanchine. Forget Rave, the pièce d’occasion, with its dancers painted in rainbow hues and disguised as inscrutable personas.
Armitage uses the arsenal of ballet steps impressively and with imagination. But even in pieces performed in their entirety, I don’t get a meaningful sense of a whole, only of cleverly assembled parts, and the evening’s striking images remain strangely cool.