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Choreographer Amy Sue Rosen and artist Derek Bernstein have been collaborating since 1981, creating unified worlds out of dance and visual design. Object Lesson, which opened their March program at the Duke on 42nd Street, restricts Sally Bomer, David Parker, and Kristi Spessard to lanes of white floor defined by carafes of water linked with plastic tubing. Moving to a magical score by Mieczyslaw Litwinski and wearing white clothes by K. Meta, they feel the ground carefully with each step; crouched on knees and forearms, they stare at us. Their few, fastidiously designed actions and gestures are calm—except when they erupt into wild dancing, waving their arms crazily. Meanwhile red dye seeps through the tubes and into the carafes. You think lab experiment. You think blood transfusion. A poem in the program commemorates the death of a sister. Rosen is battling cancer herself. The evening is called “Triage.” These facts grip you as the clear water turns inexorably crimson.
The new Abandoning Hope, to music by Frank London and I. Manger, is even sparer. Bomer, veiled and clad in a sheer black dress (by Reiko Kawashima), walks carefully on the upheld hands of Thom Fogarty, Sam Keany, and Phillip Karg. She moves as if her skin hurts. Jeff Fontaine’s beautiful lighting is here stark and chill. A curtain of water falls from above onto the trough that stretches across the front of the stage; we see Victoria Boomsma catch Bomer’s head in her hands through that rain, as if through tears. People lay one another out, but Bomer is clearly the fragile, distraught voyager separating herself from life, and Boomsma tenderly, reluctantly guides the way.
In One Magnificent Gesture, Rosen and Bernstein’s spare and painterly approach elegantly serves what might be a fairy tale gone haywire. The stage, with its beige wall, broom, and basket, looks like an underpopulated Brueghel with all the color bleached out. Fogarty wears a voluminous farmer’s smock (by Kawashima), and Laura Staton, in dress, apron, and hood, could be anyone’s stiff Gretel. Litwinski’s score recycles a Schumann lied. Eggs are major players. Staton rows an imaginary boat while Fogarty, Karg, and Ted Johnson circuitously pass eggs she has doled out. In one memorably lascivious moment, Staton bends over and slowly and repeatedly pours water into a bowl, while Fogarty, pressed tight against her from behind and making evil faces, “helps” her. At the end, a large slanted tube spits eggs from above. Fogarty fields them with a basket of feathers.
To heroic music, the Condors, 12 zany and endearing guys from Japan, fly past the Statue of Liberty toward the Japan Society audience through an improbably blue sky. This is a film, of course, and like the whole of Ryohei Kondo’s Conquest of the Galaxy: Jupiter Love You Live, it brings to mind Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Except that the Condors’ humor is less verbal and more physical, and adolescent grottiness (the men often wear school uniforms) and outright lunacy invade the terrain of Japanese pop culture.
Most of their skits are short, and with the help of film, puppetry, songs, and spurts of springy, punching, slashing dancing (Kondo himself is a knockout), the show fairly prances along. A nearly naked Atlas (Michihiko Kamakura) bowls his big exercise-ball world at his huddled colleagues. While Junichi Aota spits out vocal rhythm, a generalissimo (Yasuharu Katsuyama), eyeing a globe possessively and growling, “I will drink the world up,” is plied with glasses of water; finally sodden, he surrenders. In a wacky western, men become saloon doors and lie down, the shadows of the honchos facing off in a shoot-out. The only woman is a blond doll (or ponytailed Yoshihiro Fujita in drag). You have to love men who introduce themselves as New York City landmarks; Satoshi Okuda, the biggest and plumpest (often the fall guy), marches in to announce himself as a bank, trumping the others and occasioning the memorable line (grunted imperiously into his cell phone): “Hello, Economy, this is Bank.”
The secret of the group’s success, I think, is that they’re funny in a bumbling, human way—sly but not very subtle, skilled yet clumsy. Even the videos have a homemade look. And the men appear to be having a wonderful time together, like a bunch of terribly clever kids who’ve been hanging out for ages, putting on a show for the hell of it.
A photo on the cover of Clare Byrne’s press kit shows the choreographer, her head covered by a lace veil, her face sweetly reproachful. But she’s squatting, and she might just be taking a crap. This is not such a far-fetched interpretation. In The St. Patrick’s Pageant, Byrne’s latest excursion into deconstructed holiness, her Narrator, Rodrigo Joaquin Alonzo, is chained to a fanciful toilet most of the time, urging himself in a bravura Irish accent to “push it all out,” meaning the residual truth of the historical Saint Patrick’s fuzzy allusions to a misspent youth.
The two-act dance-play at Joyce Soho, written and choreographed by Byrne, has a harum-scarum charm, its unruliness monitored by intelligence. You’re never sure what’ll happen next, and when it comes you may not instantly be able to fit it into the faintly surreal puzzle, but you can easily fall in love with it.
Did Saint Patrick drive the snakes out of Ireland? The slithering, sexy, ragamuffin snake-women (Theresa Palazzo, Sarah Carlson, and Donna Bouthillier, who also double as barnyard animals) are not going anywhere. Palazzo, altogether human, slithers into a feather bed on a cart with the fallible saint (skinny, dreadlocked Elmer Moore Jr.) after he has tangled intriguingly with the ladies (feet have a way of getting into crotches) and symbolically thrust his shepherd’s staff right through the mattress. Did Patrick’s tale of temporary escape from Ireland (he’d been kidnapped as a boy) to his native Britain conceal a pregnant-wench episode? That’s what occurred in a parallel story that Alonzo (his Irish accent abandoned) tells of a virtuous Mexican forebear, Tomás, and his travails crossing the border after impregnating his sweetheart. (Patrick returns to Ireland; Tomás goes back to Mexico and a happy marriage.)
I forgot to mention that Alonzo also plays the guitar and sings (music by him and Jason Crigler). He and Patrick decide that “Salty Dog” is a restorative. They also repeat the useful mantra “I got the right string but the wrong yo-yo.” In the end, everybody dances like gleefully clumsy kids while belting out “Rock Island Line.” Among them are Jennifer A. Cooper as an accordion-playing Lamb and Amy Larimer and Ruben Ortiz as Clouds in dressy, retro white clothes designed by Cooper. In addition to delivering sharp patter so rapid you can hardly grasp it, they mount ladders decked with bicycle wheels and copper wire (by Matt Allar) and sing and kibitz. I’d have to see this show again (a pleasant prospect) to get all the cross-references. Other work by Byrne will be shown at Dixon Place in June.