Theater archives

Flesh and Spirit


Two veterans of the downtown scene opened shows April 25 at HERE. Karen Bernard’s Ya Ya, a brief program of “solo dances, sometimes with others” that runs through May 16, baffles me. She seems to think it sufficient to stand onstage looking sad, changing into and out of a variety of outfits, removing and replacing her shoes as various acolytes take her photograph or help her dress. Movie soundtracks, recycled by Fernando Maneca, provide soapy background music. Sometimes Bernard swings her hips in gestures that telegraph simultaneously “stay back” and “come hither.” Her furrowed brow and anxious expression suggest that this effort is a trial for her; it’s also a trial for a spectator who, eager to connect, gradually concludes that (in the words of Gertrude Stein, whom Bernard somewhat resembles) there’s no there there. There are, however, margaritas.

Susan Osberg’s The Blavatsky Project: Voice of a Seer was a much more ambitious undertaking, a multimedia dance-theater work evoking the career of 19th-century clairvoyant Helena P. Blavatsky. Osberg had the good sense to cast a strong actress, Cynthia Hewitt, in the central speaking role; the piece offered the satisfactions of drama as well as of dance and was supported by Ellen Band’s elaborate musical collages drawn from the cultures and traditions Blavatsky encountered. It also featured crisp visual concepts executed by Winston Roeth and video by Tomiyo Sasaki and Ernest Gusella. The dancers (Marika Blossfeldt, Christina Briggs, Amanda Rouse, Osberg, Francisco Rider da Silva, Madhi Kazuto Shah, and Robert Yahner) kept Blavatsky’s international and interpsychic pilgrimage in almost constant motion. It was asking a lot, though, in the third hour of the show, to make us watch the heroine (possibly deceased) roll and smoke an entire cigarette.