What a nice little girl she says she was! And what an understanding woman! But as Elizabeth Burritt sits at a table before a camera, sending to a screen a very large projection of her face, we notice that something is subtly askew. She coos empathy, but her face and body unleash hostility. Never trust a woman with a topknot.
Burritt—in a brilliant, over-the-top performance—is one of several contradiction-fraught characters in Joe Goode’s What the Body Knows, shown during his San Francisco-based company’s Joyce season. Goode’s mordantly witty and poignant theater pieces fuse text and dancing, and this 2001 work appropriately pits mind against body, what people crave against what they will accept. Marit Brook-Kothlow, shedding blue powder from her wig, sings about how she wants Felipe Barrueto-Cabello to touch her. But he’s frozen, holding a box of cereal. Is it a dream when he dashes aside the Cheerios and grabs her into a tango? They end up sitting down glumly to eat breakfast.
Marc Morozumi twitches and scratches, frenzied, he tells us, with eczema. A party boy who needs sex often, he’s allergic to staying home. His homebody lover (Vong Phrommala) surrounds their “room” with electric tea-kettles on long cords, whistling as they boil up domesticity. Morozumi wonders if he can change. Burritt’s treacly hostility binds these episodes together, along with Beth Custer’s music and edgy dancing by all, including Jennifer Wright Cook.
Goode handles his themes obliquely. He’s one of the few choreographer-authors who can grip and move you even when you’re not sure what he’s saying. The marvelous 1989 Doris in a Dustbowl, however, is lucid in its woebegone insanity. Pink net dress, white suit—oh, yes, Doris Day and Rock Hudson. But no—hiccuping and gasping rhythmically, Goode and Burritt come to realize they’re not movie stars in a ’50s dreamland after all. He blows white dust on her; she drops an apronful on him. He brings in a little diorama, by James Morris, of a lonesome house on an arid plain. The big kiss never comes. Oklahoma, they admit, is not what they expected.
In Take Place, the dancers expand on Goode’s monologue about the lack of stability among today’s on-the-move people. What places do they remember? Where were or are they happiest? Goode might like a place in the country—not too far from conveniences, of course. At one point, prevaricating, he dons a Pinocchio nose. But the truth, he finally says, is in the land, in something not of our own making—something that reminds us how small we are.
The steeply raked bleachers at the Duke on 42nd Street are both an exciting and an unnerving place from which to watch Heidi Latsky’s Bound, the season opener for the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project (five companies, one a week through April 13). If you sit close, you get the sweating-and-panting effect; sit a lot higher, and you can imagine the seats tipping and spilling you down into the middle of a stew of dancing. You might not live.
Latsky, once so memorable in Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane’s company, has a rich, eclectic physical style with links to her mentors. In Bound, her first evening-length piece, the dancers operate at white heat, rendered malleable by emotion. They go from being repressed and trapped to running free. It’s not always clear, however, what Latsky wants to convey minute by minute.
She begins alone, with others motionless in the dark background (lighting design by Robert Wierzel). She’s extraordinary, a small woman whose body is charged with feeling, yet exact and clear in every way. Throughout Bound, about a dozen others come and go—usually dancing ferociously to music by Randall Woolf (the first two parts), Marty Beller (the last part), and Vivaldi (intermittently). Three corseted women (costumes by Patti Gilstrap) bourrée stiffly, one of them (Christina Briggs) on pointe. Dale Charles Geyer III and Catey Ott handle Latsky as if they were parents trying solicitously to control a troubled child. The wonderfully lush Carrie Ahern has a mysterious role—echoing Latsky, being manipulated like a doll, dancing like a bacchante.
For a while, white blouses and blue skirts (Ahern puts a blouse on Latsky) turn everyone into parochial-school denizens and seem to trigger uninhibited behavior as the music turns playfully carnivalesque (the black dresses with green necklaces that come later are a little harder to parse). In this impatient, juicy, almost hallucinatory piece, your eyes get a workout. There’s very little unison. A fascinating variant of Red Rover barely starts before it’s over. Samantha Harvey’s wild, fast solo rips in from left field. Yoel Cassell tangles his limbs in crazy glee; what triggered that? People go nuts leaping.
After Bound‘s 50 or so minutes, I’m in a daze. Excited, but bursting with questions.
Vicky Shick’s Undoing (continuing at Dance Theater Workshop Saturday and Sunday) also lasts a little under an hour, but couldn’t be more different from Latsky’s work. With four other superb dancers (Juliette Mapp, Jodi Melnick, Eileen Thomas, and Meg Wolfe), Shick creates a female world of long stillnesses and soft gestures. Artist Barbara Kilpatrick’s designs—enhanced by Chloë Z. Brown’s lighting—shape and reshape this world. One low, square wooden platform is a resting place; another holds a translucent white bowl, above which hangs a very long metallic silver dress. Three wheelable screens of unbleached muslin conceal and reveal. Elise Kermani’s spare score alternates silence with evocative sounds, such as a light calliope tune; a looped bit of soprano aria gradually pierces its way through a churning rumble.
The hanging dress, with one sleeve slightly shorter than the other, underscores the dance’s blend of the everyday and the surreal. White words, occasionally projected on the dark backdrop, hint at a progression: “earlier that day,” “a year from now . . . ” But sometimes when the lights come up after a blackout, a dancer simply continues with what she’s been doing. Shick has created a lexicon of gestures that look both familiar and utterly strange; the women rearrange their limbs and unknowable, unseen objects as if dreaming their way through curious tasks, their every move sensuous yet delicate and precise. They gently lift their chins with their fingers, they hunch their shoulders, they walk on tiptoe almost as if primping, they sit and alter the position of their legs, they gaze upward. Every now and then, instead of dancing side by side, one will sit briefly on another’s back or lie on top of her as if she were a bed.
We see the same movements again and again. Some are repeated exactly, like an entrance in which Thomas walks, both arms overhead, while Melnick, facing us and holding those arms with one hand, bourrées sideways. Other gestures keep changing as they alight on another dancer or occur in a different place or configuration. Even when Mapp and Wolfe inhabit two parts of the same complicated white garment (Kilpatrick also designed the fine costumes), their movements echo those of other peaceable, uninvolved duets.
How beautiful and how mysterious these women are! Watching, say, a solo by Melnick, I’m mesmerized anew by complexity, by how subtly changes in mind and body produce these crystal-clear gestures.