If Diana Szeinblum’s stunning Secreto y Malibú, one of Dance Theater Workshop’s Around Town presentations at the Duke, were the semi-silent Bergman movie it sometimes seems to be, the man who suddenly enters the garden of two women gradually sinking into companionable madness would probably wreak havoc. But his advent is shocking; no name in the program announces him, and after romantic kisses, he leaves, intensifying the claustrophobic atmosphere of this place where fantasies match the hard dryness of the earth.
Ines Rampoldi (Secreto) and Leticia Mazur (Malibú) created the piece with the Argentinean choreographer and are its amazing performers. They inhabit an arid landscape—perhaps a house at the edge of the pampas. Leafless brush like tumbleweed sits near part of a stucco house equipped with a door. There’s a high wall at the back (set by Ramiro Starosta and Mariano Sivak). A small ficus looks just planted in a mound of earth. It’s hot. Rampoldi switches on an inadequate fan and stands in trance before it, while Axel Krygier’s dramatic and sensitively spare score invokes Szeinblum’s hallucinatory green landscape with a pop hula.
You feel the women’s isolation, their imprisonment in a crushing idleness. Although they embark on fierce dances, the overall rhythm of the piece is desultory, full of unspoken “What now?” and “Oh, never mind . . . ” They start something, then forget why they began. Several times, Mazur climbs a ladder to a tiny roof deck, steps into a pair of high-heeled shoes, and stands at the edge as if contemplating suicide. The two hit the wall, literally, several times, and once Rampoldi chalks a hanged figure beside Mazur.
You can see the influence of Pina Bausch, with whom Szeinblum studied (the women wreathe their arms intricately around their bodies, slip-stitching them through the loops they create), and of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, with whom Mazur worked. But everything looks fresh. Early on, the women perform a remarkable unison dance that occurs mostly on the floor. Inner compulsions slam them into crab-like jumps and twisted positions that suggest they’ve been dropped from a high place. They grunt and gasp. Even with time-outs, the mixture of violence and precision exhausts them.
They play in ways both silly and terrible, dousing each other with water from a sprinkler, pulling up their shirts with mischievous smiles, removing their panties. A game of bumping and tripping gets rough, but they barely stop their wild laughter. As their behavior becomes stranger and stranger, their dancing more unsteady, Mazur goes into the house and returns with a beet; slicing it in half, she smears the juice-blood on her wrists. They both rub their eyes with cut onions, and howl. Mazur holds onto the little tree trunk, head back, mouth open (she’s done this before). Rampoldi, having drunk three mugs of water from a tap, spreads a newspaper beside her companion, stands on it, holds Mazur’s hand, and urinates onto the paper. Then she pushes earth from around the tree onto the wetness. It’s an appalling moment. Does she somehow think that she’s watering the tree?
Nothing concludes. There they are, side by side, sitting with their backs to the wall. Maybe night falls.
The hardy Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX) has a history of presenting bold new work. Melissa Briggs’s in-progress Citystory certainly deserves both adjectives. Her dancers (Kelly Bartnik, Donna Costello, Toni Melaas, and Mindy Nelson) have the look of apprentices in a society they’re just beginning to understand. Their eyes are blackened, and each has a black line running from under her chin to the neckline of her maroon outfit. Their dancing is loose, but strong and clear. Sometimes they pair up. Briggs has the wit to use on occasion the room’s pillars, and at one point to have the women cluster, crouching, at the foot of the mesmerizing singer-composer Cat Martino, as if she were an oracle. Certainly there’s witchery in the original songs she delivers with the support of guitar, drums, cello, and violin. What words I can understand—”delicious desires,” “dance of destruction”—cling to the dancers.
In one startling and moving moment, the women, in pairs, reach out to touch one another’s breasts. Suddenly each has a fabric “heart” in her hand, which she slips into a hidden pocket on her own chest. At the end, in a circle, they take out their new hearts and drop them on the floor. Citystory is an impressive piece of work.
Faster Than Dark, created by Mollie O’Brien with performers Jennifer Dignan and Gina Jacobs, is also interesting and enigmatic. The women, small and strong, spend quite a lot of time standing near the viewers, shoulder to shoulder, while Shawn Onsgard’s electronic score buzzes and rumbles around them. Like the dance, it’s minimal, but powerful. Dignan raises one hand and wigwags it, peering intently forward; Jacobs rolls her eyes back, opens her mouth, and wilts. This is a theme for a while—Dignan trying different gestures; Jacobs straightening up, then drooping again. When they move from their positions, they jump hard, punishing the floor, and they still have a predilection for lineups—walking toward us, skittering back. They end wildly punching at each other, then putting their heads together and turning them to stare at us.
Kourtney Rutherford’s girly Panties is full of devices. She primps before a TV monitor, in sync, then not, with her video image. On a little keyboard, she plays a single-finger accompaniment to one of various recorded pieces of music. It’s her idea to keep changing panties labeled with the days of the week and encapsulating her day in movement and music. The piece is an uneasy blend of satire and sincerity. Rutherford doesn’t seem to have the physical skills to articulate her movements fully. Her awkwardness may be in part a choice, but it’s also an impediment.