Since when did minimalism come in bubblegum pink, jump high, and strut its stuff? Yet one of the giddy pleasures of Brian Brooks’s dance-o-matic is that he concentrates on one movement module at a time, repeating it (with variations) until silliness and braininess merge.
For Brooks’s latest work at Williamsburg’s WAX (of which he is a co-founder and co-director), he and lighting designer Jeremy Morris turn the neutral space into a pink playground: pink floor bordered with fluorescent tubes, curtains of pink ribbons that descend. After the credits roll on a screen à la Hollywood, to John Stone’s syrupy fanfare, Brooks, Alexander Gish, Jo-anne Lee, and Weena Pauly appear, each clad in tiny pink ruffled trunks, a fuchsia feather boa, and sporting a flower behind one ear. They step carefully into the arena, but once there, they become windup club kids, developing a simple sidestep and a turn of the head into a tricky rhythmic game in which everyone gets a chance to be hoisted.
Stone turns out appropriately candy-colored music—sappy, bouncy, tinkly—and Sarah Browder fills in the gaps between immaculate little dances with such video treats as an animated corps of pliéing flamingoes. The atmosphere is so rosy that we spectators respond to Brooks’s entrance in blue for a solo on a blue rectangle as if we were witnessing a sacrilege.
Brooks is very rigorous. One section of dance-o-matic is all about sliding to the floor; another is about windmilling limbs (the dancers do this in various patterns and timings until you think their arms’ll drop off). Some sections are extremely strenuous. People arrest one another in mid-jump or bat a jumper back and forth. Every one of these charmers gets to excel in a demanding solo. Pauly varies a sidestep by doing it with Brooks standing on her shoulders. On the frivolous side, they blow up pink balloons and play netless volleyball with us. If this is a sandbox they’re romping in, it’s one that grants advanced degrees.
The 13th-century liturgical text Stabat Mater is an early exercise in kinesthesia. Not only does Mary, standing at the foot of the Cross, suffer her son’s every pain, the writer (possibly Jacopone da Todi) pleads with the Virgin to let him take on those torments. Guta Hedewig, who showed her Stabat Mater/Mother Stood to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s glorious setting in the resonant architecture of St. Mark’s Church, doesn’t follow closely the anguished words. The movement, a suitcase, and slatted wooden cages by Illya Azaroff that hold some of Kathy Kaufmann’s lights are thoroughly contemporary. Yet amid the bounding, often witty dancing of Monica Bill Barnes, Kristi Spessard, and the choreographer, you can see moments of apprehension, compassion, and disharmony-becoming-harmony that jostle gently against the text. And it would be hard not to put together the sight of Hedewig squatting and rounding her arms to embrace the air and the word “filius” flowering at that moment from a soprano-countertenor duet.
At one point Barnes and Spessard slip into a single large, black coat—literally inhabiting the same skin—and eat apples they find in its pockets. During an opening silence, the three stand twisting stiffly, as if trying to wrench their feet loose, and jerking their arms away from their sides until they resemble saintly statues. Sometimes they stare warily about or seem taken aback; they briefly don tutus as if this constituted a penance. They also perform, deadpan, a nuttily out-of-sync folk dance and race in circles like athletes in training. Yet at the final “amen,” two are standing before us, arms spread, slowly flying.
I could be making too much of these correspondences, but Hedewig, a smart choreographer who’s been showing her work here and in Europe for something over 10 years, has made a dance that suggests something deeper than three fine dancers at play. Her Stabat Mater sparks further kinesthetic responses—ours to her vivid choreography and, through it, to the music and the feelings it glorifies.
Billy Joel’s line “Only the good die young” was addressed to a Catholic girl by a randy boy intent on breaching her virginity. The phrase acquired a horrible irony last week when William Marrié, who played the leading role of Eddie at matinee performances of the Twyla Tharp-Billy Joel Broadway hit Movin’ Out, died two days short of his 34th birthday after his motorcycle collided with a taxi. He was very, very good.
He will be mourned not just by his family and friends, by the National Ballet of Canada (where he had been a principal), and by his “family” in Movin’ Out, but by all those who will now never see him dance. What a loss!