Theater archives

From Player Piano to Steadicam


When Eliot Feld gets keen on an idea or a composer, several dances in the same vein may turn up in the repertory of his Ballet Tech. Having choreographed Pianola (now Pianola: Raven) for four women to some of Conlon Nancarrow’s pieces for player piano, he offers Pianola: Indigo for the same quartet: Jacquelyn Scafidi, Patricia Tuthill, Ha-Chi Yu, and Andrea Emmons. Both works are featured in Ballet Tech’s Joyce season (through April 13).

In both, the spotlit piano’s keys dance around at a demonic, note-crammed pace, but the new piece seems moodier and wilder than last year’s. Scafidi crawls offstage like a bug; in Yu’s jittery solo, her feet turn in to a balance-threatening degree, and she crashes. Feld pushes his distinctive vocabulary for women to an almost unlikable extreme. With their jutting hips and swaybacked undulations, and the high kicks they catch with their hands, the four resemble pinup girls with muscle power, or gymnasts (Russian gymnasts, said my friend who knows). Siren alert—stop your ears.

Among the several solos programmed this season is one for guest dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. Feld made a rather surprising choice in Mr. XYZ, casting this superb performer as a lot further down the road of age and infirmity than he actually is. The mega-star as old cutie. Baryshnikov enters, slightly stooped, wearing specs and a straw hat and wielding a cane. He and Feld turn tottering into devilish, rhythmically complex choreography. When Leon Redbone’s juicy voice eases into Irving Berlin’s “My Walking Stick,” this drily impish Fred Astaire in sneakers does the expected things—rides his cane, gropes along with it, raises it like an umbrella. But Feld also jokes cleverly about Baryshnikov’s ballet past; the cane becomes Apollo’s lyre, then rapidly morphs through down-and-dirty guitar into the stick with which Balanchine’s Prodigal Son drags himself back home. À la Astaire, Baryshnikov gives a dressmaker’s dummy a romantic spin, but after some funny business with a revolving chair, he’s into Giselle. Seated, he glides backward, strewing lilies (to “Lulu’s Back in Town”), and four women spin him down the line, helpful Wilis rather than vengeful ones. He follows them off, the chair clamped between his legs; he’s spinning the base like a propeller.

Tuthill dances with beautiful warmth and breadth in Impromptu, a solo to music by Albert Roussel that Feld choreographed in 1976 for Birgit Keil (then in the Stuttgart Ballet). She’s equally fine in Mending, with Jassen Virolas splendid as the man who, sliding over metal pegs in a suspended plastic box, reaches down to try and bring this woman into his cruel, confined world—or, at least, to hold her. The simplicity of both dancers’ performing makes this ordeal all the more poignant. Nickemil Concepcion—almost naked, studded with small lit bulbs—endows his role in last year’s Behold the Man with a dignity that transcends the weird (and to my mind fatal) choices Feld made in the piece’s second half, when the hero is laboriously crowned with slim balloons (inflated onstage) and chased by balloon-wielding people. Christ mocked and hounded in a party-time world?

Neil Greenberg likes to make our eyes work. We focus tightly on a rotating wrist, then widen our gaze to take in a dancer’s whole body as the movement lashes through it. In many ways, he asks us to shift between details and the whole altering stage picture, and to assemble elements on the fly. In his elegant new Two (at Dance Theater Workshop Saturday and Sunday), he increases our options. Small onstage cameras, switched on and off by the four dancers, throw images they capture onto a screen.

Doubles, dualities, doppelgängers. We can look at one person from two different perspectives simultaneously or choose our view. While Ori Flomin and Phithsamay Linthahane dance, Antonio Ramos trains a camera on Linthahane, editing out her partner. When she moves on the floor, her profile to us, the stationary camera she has turned on shows her from the front and in close-up. We can’t see what’s happening to Ramos’s face, but the camera reveals fluttering eyelids. Just as the live dancers come and go—often onstage for short time spans—their projected images, or parts of them, slide off the edges of the screen and disappear. A larger-than-life Greenberg periodically dances back and forth across it in a fairly close shot, but never appears onstage. At moments, one of the others moves in unison with him, but only Justine Lynch seems to notice his image.

To further complicate the slippery options, Zeena Parkinson’s score samples Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, and Carl Stalling. We hear a scrap of what might be rehearsal talk. A small video monitor at the back sometimes holds shots of running—always in the same direction: a herd of horses, a mare and her colt, people’s feet, a Japanese woman in a kimono rushing through a forest (she might be Machiko Kyo in Rashomon; if so Greenberg is alluding to a classic case of multiple viewpoints).

The “materials” in Greenberg’s 2001 Construction With Varied Materials are primarily dancers, although a few projected words divert us to thoughts of provenance; ” ‘wrist’ material” and ” ‘hopscotch’ material” appear as Ramos solos (the wrist we can identify; hopscotch is utterly transformed). The lavish dancing of Flomin, Greenberg, Ramos, Caitlin Cook, and Paige Martin (with the help of lighting designer Michael Stiller) makes the space open up and shrink around them, divide into islands, form a fertile garden plot.

The weather in March is far less predictable than Nancy Meehan’s annual concerts at St. Mark’s Church. For 32 years, her works have bloomed modestly on the New York dance scene, immune to trends. Meehan is mistress of quiet surprises. In her dances, a community of women—always dressed identically by her artist husband, Anthony Candido—goes about its business. The women are gentle, alert—clear in their gestures and uniform in their behavior, even though they differ in age and size. Every now and then they erupt into speed, like a mannerly flock of feeding birds suddenly taking wing. Their air of virtuous sensuousness gives them the look of priestesses tending a shrine of dance.

Meehan is adroitly three-dimensional in her use of space and subtly dynamic in her approach to time. To begin her 2001 Timings, for instance, three women squat head to head; a little distance away, two others do the same. A sixth woman stands leaning against a pillar. The five rise and walk on tiptoe, holding hands. As they separate and continue in various directions, the sixth unobtrusively joins in. Suddenly they jump, taking off in weighted leaps, and one cartwheels to be caught and held, feet in the air, by the others. You become intensely aware of the space, as if the motion has made it quiver. Meehan has sensitive collaborators in addition to Candido. No one can make the church glow quite so beautifully as resident lighting designer Carol Mullins. Eleanor Hovda provides spare, evocative music—mostly with delicate percussion that includes the strings of a piano. She has created some wonderful scores for Meehan; those for the three dances on this bill were even more minimal—in some cases barely audible.

The premiere, Unconscious Conversations, is more energetic than Timings but no less calm. Because density is not a feature of Meehan’s textures, each movement stays in your mind. You will not forget the women walking (again on tiptoe), heads wobbling gently, or the way they pick up one leg and cradle it, or their curious advance, bent slightly forward and rubbing their buttocks with the backs of their hands. Occasionally they unite in a project, like lining up beside a fallen companion and making her roll by stamping their feet. In this piece, five of the women (Ann Chiaverini, Erin Crawley Woods, Jm Leary, Frances Rosario-Puleo, Corinne Sarian, and Kate Taylor) execute brief solos and become a little more knowable.

I found Feet on a Wooden Plane the richest in its interplay of concerted, ritualistic moments and sudden flurries. There’s a lovely passage when two women walk around two fallen colleagues, outlining them with their feet, and another when five of the dancers stand shoulder-to-shoulder and a sixth walks along the line, nudging a foot experimentally between each as she goes. You might think you could doze off in such tranquillity, but you can’t.