Theater archives

Chop Me Up a Story


Chopping a classic narrative into bits and rearranging them in winsome and provocative ways works best when the audience knows the story. Otherwise, the piece had better stand alone or the fragments be beguiling enough to distract us from issues of meaning. Certainly DD Dorvillier offers some powerful images in her new Wind (The Eternal Return of the Same), which premiered at the Kitchen. Take the towers of electric fans, one of which conceals a video camera for recording confessions. Or how about five people, covered from head to toe in stretchy blue lace suits, slowly uncoiling on a suspended floor of blue fabric? How about two “Furies” in blue tutus (Gayle Gibbons and Jessica Reese Dessner) picking their way on pointe among three “Schoolgirls” in plaid skirts (Willa Carroll, Anika Tromholt Kristensen, and John Wyszniewski)?

Dorvillier has a track record in the deconstruction business. She’s clever and imaginative, but her elaborate production is too obscure for its own good. At rock bottom, we don’t know everything she knows, although the program reveals a connection to the myth of Castor and Pollux. When Sara Michelson (Pollux, we can tell by the boxing gloves) calls out, “Father, I need you!” and a video of a swan appears on the back wall, it helps to know that Zeus seduced Leda in the form of a swan, and that Pollux was divine spawn, while his mortal twin, Castor, was fathered by Leda’s husband. And yes, that cluster of blue dancers does look like an egg. And toy horses plus videos of live ones plus hoofbeats in Guy Yarden’s score may trigger the memory that Castor was a horse trainer. If it doesn’t, you could find yourself wondering, “Why the hell horses?”

The mythic twins are played by women (Dorvillier is Castor), but on video they shave their faces. The mirror-image videos are projected on a small house, which, when turned, reveals breasts in bas-relief. (I can’t imagine what any of this is about.)

There’s a tragedy hidden amid schoolgirls who crave smoke, a strategic pig mask, a filmed boat on a stormy sea (Tal Yarden managed the fine lighting and visual design), and a ’60s woman agog over her plans to take Buzz Aldrin’s photo. (Is Dorvillier linking Aldrin the astronaut to the twins reunited forever in the zodiac?) When Michelson jumps repeatedly, chanting, “You are alone!” or says into a mic, “The biggest problem with you is you’re dead,” she’s referring to the demise of a twin: her rival, her other half. But we can’t feel the weight of that loss, only glimpse it amid the provocative shards.

What a sight! Six double basses, their wood glowing, recline on the floor of the Duke on 42nd Street, while beside each, a score is illumined from above in a form-fitting rectangle of light (by Pat Dignan). If you know Yoshiko Chuma’s entrancingly rambunctious way with musicians, you might guess what these beauties will be put through in her May I Have This Dance? While Chuma’s frequent collaborator, bassist Robert Black, and five game members of the Hartt Bass Band play James Sellars’s tartly impish music, one does a little shimmy, another twirls his instrument, and they all thrash the air with their bows. Chuma, wearing a long, shiny black coat by Gabriel Berry, is the fly in the ointment. Not only does she indulge in some wild, vigorous, arm-swinging dancing; she squeezes through lines the musicians form, pats this player, leans on that one, incites dodging games with Black.

Even more unusual than Chuma’s irreverent love of musicians is her new job as artistic director of Daghdha Dance Company, a small group that started 12 years ago at the University of Limerick, Ireland. Her In Gear: Reverse Psychology, Agenda II mingles Daghdha dancers Olwen Grindley, Richard O’Brien, and Jade Travers with veterans of her School of Hard Knocks Anthony Phillips and Kasumi Takahashi. A swath of hunkered-down, wide-legged movement—hands snatching and slashing air—dissolves into erect, contained Irish step-dancing. Jacob Burckhardt’s lovely score and visual design match birds, whistling, singing voices, wind, surf, and rain with black-and-white films of sea and shore. The dancers partner one another, as slippery as fishes.

Much of the action involves an open-sided seven-foot cube. People take turns in its center; without ever stopping the action, teams tip and wheel it to trap or free dancing comrades. Handheld fluorescent tubes are moved to mark other boundaries. It’s a really nice piece, beautifully performed, although a metronome and clocks with dangling hands remind me of time, and the dance feels long.

In Memoriam. When Dame Ninette de Valois died on March 8 at 102, the dance world mourned not only the passing of one of the pioneers—with Marie Rambert—of British ballet, but somehow the passing of an era. As founder of the Vic-Wells (now the Royal) Ballet in 1931 and its director for over 30 years, de Valois could look back on Frederick Ashton as the bright young choreographer she’d lured from her rival Rambert, and Margot Fonteyn as a 15-year-old snowflake in The Nutcracker. One of the world’s great companies was her baby. And her bequest to us all.

A month earlier to the day, on this side of the ocean, the modern dance world lost Pauline Koner. Tiny, vivid, deeply dramatic—unforgettable—in the dances of Doris Humphrey and José Limón and in her own work, she was also an extraordinary teacher and coach. Nuance was everything. I can remember rehearsal minutes ticking away while Pauline taught us exactly how to feel air on the backs of our hands as we gestured. Young and impatient, I didn’t fully appreciate such subtleties. I do now.

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