Theater archives

Gathering Moss


Dance is ephemeral, as we all know. And it suggests more than it tells. Some choreographers are committed to exploring that now-you-see-it-but-do-you? aspect of the form. In his recent performances at the Danspace Project in St. Mark’s Church, Dean Moss offered fragments from some unknown whole, leaving us either to enjoy those fragments or run amok. His opening solo, the board dance (from his 2001 american deluxe), clues us in to his method. Borrowing a strategy from David Gordon, with whose PickUp Company he worked for 10 years, Moss manipulates a large rectangular panel—white on one side, mirrored on the other. As he wheels, hoists, and tilts it with a dour, workmanlike demeanor, it reflects the church and fleetingly throws projected patterns and film clips and David Fritz’s lighting onto the walls and ceiling. The white side captures flashes of an Italian western (A Fistful of Dollars) and Toshiro Mifune swaggering through Yojimbo, but as Moss’s own silhouette and that of the panel loom on the back wall, and you overhear a morsel of a taped conversation between Moss and his brother, you have to ask, does the “content” matter—or only the form and the interplay between presence and absence?

Moss’s new supplement frames bits of video reality on three free-standing screens of different sizes. One holds what might almost be a linear narrative: a massage session (actually Rolfing). But what we see are patches of blotchy skin in extreme close-up, and fingers pressing terribly deeply into it. (This image finds an echo when Marcelo Coutinho or Jason Marchant dig their hands into their own diaphragms and walk hunched over; Coutinho talks in Portuguese about Rolfing.) Some of Gia Grosso’s costumes look like normal clothes, until you notice they have pieces missing, and indeed, the overall impression of supplement is that pieces that might bind together what look like desultory activities in a strange adult playground have been deliberately withheld. Kacie Chang looks puzzled and apprehensive much of the time. You can intuit concern and camaraderie among these three and Hiromi Naruse and Kathryn Sanders, and notice that there is a certain rigor to what they do (rarely “dance”), exemplified by Naruse’s fascinating, horizontal journey on plastic bricks set on end, which she strains to set in a trail.

Beth Soll’s work is spare and circumspect in another way. And her LAKE: Imaginary Dreams of Russia, shown at WAX, shares with her earlier pieces a quiet intensity. The title explains her rationale and the work’s delicate, fragmentary nature: These are not just dreams, but imaginary dreams.

The four women of LAKE all wear different sorts of white clothing with red touches (the red increases in the second part of the dance). The costumes vaguely suggest Russia. Linda Seifert, identified as The Spirit Figure, wears a long gown and a tall headdress. Erin Crawley-Woods and Kate Taylor (Dream Dancers) are clad like peasants in loose shirts and bloomers (plus sneakers!); their cheeks are bright red. While Soll, in a layered dress and a head scarf, threads among them, the occasional bursts of music (Shostakovich, Russian popular and folk) seem less to accompany them than to ensnare them. The intermittent sound of tolling bells hints at emergencies as well as Sunday mornings.

In the two-part, nine-section work, Soll invests Seifert’s character with the dignity of an empress; Soll, as The Dreamer, attempts to copy her steps and, at one point, clings to her for support. In the first part, Crawley-Woods and Taylor frolic like two boisterous serfs, but in her later solo Taylor, now barefoot, shows a new dignity, and Crawley-Woods dances pertly with an eye for the audience.

The dancing is both refined and unrefined—natural roughness fastidiously framed. Images, some of them almost like still pictures, suggest journeys, meditation, fear, celebration. But always the women are watchful—of each other, of their own thoughts, of something looming on the horizon or falling from the sky.

Dance Theater Workshop’s “Split Stream” series marshals two or three young(ish) choreographers with one dance each on their hands into shared programs. The latest featured Amanda Loulaki, Maria Hassabi, and Gerald Casel.

Both Loulaki and Hassabi begin with potent images. Loulaki’s Hi, My Name Is Clio explores limitations in engagingly kinky ways. Pinned in a spotlight, the remarkable Hristoula Haraka flops stiffly about like a jointed doll, feet clubbed, legs spread. Tinkly music emanates from a scratched record. Those who join her—Loulaki, Carolyn Hall, and Emily Tepper—are equally vehement and equally forlorn. Trying to please or be adventurous, they tend to get stuck with their butts up in the air. Haraka yanks Tepper around: a doll playing with a doll. They’re as circumscribed as the toy dogs that waddle on and are mercilessly nudged from their paths.

I couldn’t help remembering Bessie Schönberg’s advice to choreographers: If possible, don’t dance in your own piece. Smart and engaging as Loulaki’s work is, there’s a place near the end when it seems to be spinning its wheels. This is even more true of Hassabi’s Late Night Future. It begins marvelously with Hassabi, Yzeni Argyriou, Hamilton Montiero, and Jeremy Wade in a tight cluster. To a threatening score by the trio Azores, they nuzzle one another and slip around within the group, like puppies in a shop window. They seem both somnolent and needy; you feel skin scraping on skin. This goes on for a long time and is endlessly fascinating. As the clump stirs, its members begin to grapple as well as grope, to push and pull. Their movements are incoherent once they’ve separated; feet barely moving, they flail their arms and bodies. And for a long stretch the momentum stalls, before they creep back into their uncomfortable safety.

Casel also appears in his own work, Foible, but sparingly, as a visitor. He drops in for a solo that shows off his supple and nuanced dancing, he squares off with Craig Biesecker, and he sometimes offers a helping hand. But as a choreographer, he was able to see much of what he was making, because the heart of this dance is a community of four. When one falls, everyone looks. When one falls and starts shaking, he or she is helped up and calmed. Toni Melaas is often paired with Biesecker, while two women, Tracy Dickinson and Carolin Micklitz, work in felicitous counterpoint with them. A few everyday actions slip in: Melaas tidies Biesecker. Some gestures, like laughing or puffing on a cigarette, are offhandedly absorbed into dance steps. Casel’s expert patterning of space, the juicy movement, the dancers’ concern for one another, and the occasional accordion playing of Edward Ratcliff (the recorded music is by John Mackey) offer us a virtual village of individuals—enigmatic, yet fully present to our imaginations.

These choreographers apparently share a predilection for bizarre and not always helpful costumes. In various ways, Nicholas Petrou’s for Loulaki, Marci’s for Casel, and, especially, Stelios F. Stylianou’s for Hassabi tricked up the dancers with such items as bibs of fringe, draped panels, and flying net attachments.