Theater archives

Sacred Spaces


At first glance, the bulky object on the Belvedere at Battery Park looks like a dumpster rendered in black papier-mâché. But as time passes—as the three performers in Eiko & Koma’s Offering rotate the container on its turntable, as David Krakauer plays tones on his clarinet that start off sounding like the call of the shofar on Yom Kippur, as the hot sun sets slowly over New Jersey and a breeze whips the young leaves on the saplings surrounding the site—the object, or maybe just our perception of it, is transformed.

California dancer Lakshmi Aysola, wrapped like the lean, long-haired Eiko in a mustard-colored, sarong-like dress, is the first to scale the side of the oblong box, which is full of dirt that settles with a gentle whooshing sound. Protruding from the dirt are tree limbs and white bones. Whatever the artists intend us to perceive here, it’s hard to avoid seeing a coffin, a bier, a pyre—especially when, in the final moments, Koma, his chest bare, sets flaming torches atop the dirt, and given that we need only look east to see the desolate site of ground zero.

Time passes. The moon rises. Eiko climbs into the container alongside Lakshmi as the sun, red now, vanishes behind the New Jersey skyline. The pair of women sift through the dirt, nestle together, and recline on the unstable pile, which continues to shift beneath their weight. Koma pours loam onto the women’s legs: Maybe the big box is a planter, and they’re his crop. Microphones amplify the sound of dirt crumbling and settling. Krakauer switches to a huge bass clarinet and then back to his smaller instrument, moving and breathing in circles, making haunting, ethereal sounds.

The audience is invited to circumnavigate the performance, and to come and go as we please, but most of us sit transfixed for an hour, watching the daylight fade, the performers in their concentrated stillness, our fellow spectators at the rim of the circle. Krakauer stands for a long time with his clarinet between his lips, making the faintest of sounds. The electric light dims, too, until only flames illuminate the tableau. It’s hard to know whether to applaud or cry, to head home or keep a vigil on this spot where land meets water, where the memory of death and destruction confronts the steel skeletons of new buildings, evidence of faith in the future.

Shadow’s Child, the fruit of a five-year collaboration between Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Urban Bush Women and the Companhia Nacional de Canto e Dança de Moçambique, demonstrates in an intimate setting that children from diverse cultures speak a common language—the language of the playground, of jump rope and hide-and-seek. Zollar carried back from southeast Africa scenes of street life and styles of dancing, and an interest in storytelling that culminated in this charming fable. You might call it a mini Lion King: The black box theater in Lincoln Center’s Rose Building pulsates with African rhythms, and a menagerie of fanciful creatures—a butterfly, a praying mantis, an alligator, and an elegant waterbird, among others—share a Florida forest with a lost girl and the new friend who comes in looking for her.

American and Mozambican performers join in this production; the leading role of Xiomara, a young Mozambican schoolgirl transplanted with her family to Tallahassee, is rendered luminous by the broad, open face of Bush Woman Francine Sheffield. Seven traditional Mozambican dances are incorporated into the choreography, representing styles of many villages, and Millicent Johnnie, a student at Florida State in Tallahassee who’s a member of the cast, contributes hip-hop moves to the “American” section. The title of Shadow’s Child has a double meaning, referring both to a young girl forbidden to play in the sun because of a skin ailment and a displaced daughter of Africa seeking companionship on the Florida streets. The hour-long piece appeals to kids and adults alike; utterly sincere and straightforward, it manages to evoke two villages thousands of miles apart with just nine dancers, two musicians, Beverly Emmons’s leafy gobos, and the puppets, masks, and scenery of Debby Lee Cohen. This week it headlines at the Black Arts Festival in Atlanta; next week it plays Jacob’s Pillow, and in November you can catch it in Newark.

Recurring this season have been choreography to songs recorded by Elvis Presley, and casts that include superheroes, brides, and very young girls. In late June at Danspace Project, Monica Bill Barnes explored all this territory in When We Were Pretty, a fantasia and anxiety dream on the theme of marriage that also included a mother figure (psychotherapist Ursula Caspary Frankel). Beverly Emmons lit this show too, with stars, valentines, and flowers in full gobo flares. Lydia Martin, an adorable sixth-grade nerd in a seriously long flouncy dress, sang “Fools Rush In.” Nineteen women of all ages performed line dances and coy duets. A bubble machine pumped its product into the hall. We left with light hearts, the King’s melodies ringing in our ears.

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