Just because you saw Part 1 of Sarah Michelson’s Shadowmann at the Kitchen doesn’t mean that you can predict what will ensue in Part 2 at P.S.122 (through April 27). Although you can guess it’ll provoke thoughts about architecture and scale, and that it will turn out to be a bewitching essay in controlled disarray.
At the Kitchen, the viewing experience is dislocated from the start. We’re seated on cramped bleachers placed where the performance usually happens, facing the large doors to the little lobby. The house lights are on. A very high platform houses the light and sound equipment. Another platform holds stacks of unused chairs, as if to remind us of where we normally sit. Against a wall directly to our right, half hidden, five very young girls execute a simple repetitive drill in place throughout, turning this way and that, or, for variation, swaying from side to side. Henry Darger’s Vivian girls on semi-permanent hold. Tanya Uhlmann lays a horizontal track of decisive moves across the room in front of us. A repeating kernel of semi-melody plays over and over, layered with singing, interrupted by raucous rock. Then two doorkeepers open the outside doors, and from across the street come Michelson and Parker Lutz in puffy yellow jackets, black trunks, white stockings held up by garter belts, and red high heels. Lighting designers Jonathan Belcher and Frank DenDanto III illuminated 19th Street too?
The Kitchen has never looked so vast or so black. Onto it, Michelson stitches little modules of dancing that repeat, recur, or intersect, advance and recede. It takes a while to stop wondering when the piece is going to start. Shadowmann is about being as becoming. Greg Zuccolo enters with a phrase that crosses side to side like Uhlmann’s, but is more athletic; often he just races across the space. At times, composer Mike Iveson copies him—a clumsy, loose-edged shadow. The narrow corridor between the chair platform and the wall becomes a runway; performers hustle to the rear, out of sight, and reel their individual phrases of dancing forward until they almost collide with the drilling girls, then rush back to start again. For ages, Michelson stands in this corridor, stuck wriggling her hips in a remnant of the phrase she and Lutz began. Jennifer Howard cuts her track forward and back in the center of the room. Up in the theater’s light booth, critic Henry Baumgartner does a pedestrian copy of a Zuccolo phrase and otherwise surveys the goings-on below, occasionally raising an authoritative arm.
You keep very busy tracking all the activities, their changes and nonchanges. (Where’s Michelson? There, collapsed behind some chairs.) After an hour or so, the doorkeepers do their duty again, and there in the street is a white stretch limo. The little girls walk out, get in, and are driven away. Maybe they’re on their way to P.S.122.
It’s a little after 5:30 on a Sunday afternoon, and the seats in the New Victory Theater are alive with the sound of small hands clapping and slapping. No, it’s not applause; that’s over. After Seán Curran Company’s Quadrabox Redux, every kid in the house is inspired to try what composers Tigger Benford and Martha Partridge and fellow performers Marty Beller and Curran have accomplished in the way of daredevil rhythmic patterns created on their own and one another’s flesh and the four wooden boxes they sit on.
Adults and children alike respond to the meticulously structured and contagiously high-spirited dances Curran showed at the New Victory—adding a world premiere, Amadinda Dances, to those he groups as “Percussion Pieces.” The program includes the brilliant Folk Dance for the Future (1997, 2003), in which Curran draws on both his background as an Irish step dancer and his status as a postmodern upstart.
For Abstract Concrete (2000) and Metal Garden (2001) composer Benford (and for Metal Garden, Peter Jones) and the other musicians are in the pit. In the new piece, Benford, Partridge, and Beller play the amadinda—a large, 13-bar xylophone that originated in Uganda—in the traditional manner. Benford and Partridge, sitting on the stage floor opposite each other, strike the same bars at different times with one or two thick wooden sticks. Beller embellishes the dense pentatonic melodies by doubling certain pitches an octave higher.
Curran’s choreography, as always, is crisp, foot lively, and highly patterned in space. For this, he costumes six of his dancers in tight-fitting knit pants and tops that are white in front, brown in back, and have long red sleeves. Designer Philip W. Sandström throws six slanting pencils of light on the cyclorama. Amy Brous, Martin Davis, Marisa Demos, Tony Guglietti, Heather Waldon-Arnold, and Seth Williams work together like a drill team—strutting in different formations, turning to show their different colors, waving their bright arms in precise unison. When, at the end, they cluster and circle, whirling those arms, they turn into a big pinwheel. As the dance progresses and phrases repeat, Curran finds clever ways of changing the groupings or re-ordering the sequences.
He underlines his choreographic jokes more strongly than usual for this multi-aged audience, but gender equality and his subversion of conventional heterosexual partnering evoke no shocked titters. The other dancers in this ingratiating company are Annie Boyer, Nora Brickman, Donna Scro Gentile, Peter Kalivas, Kevin Scarpin, and that rogue Curran.
Mia Lawrence has been based in Europe these last four years. On her recent visit, to close Dance Theater Workshop’s Carnival series, she couldn’t grace us with her usual wonderful dancing, although, heavily pregnant, she is a compelling presence in her Hide and Seek.
The piece turns DTW’s black box into a bleak playground, with geometric shapes marked out on the floor in bright-colored tape, and black walls and paper panels that function as chalkboards. The games its denizens play and the stories they tell bespeak alienation and miscommunication as well as tenderness. Guy Yarden’s live-mixed score sometimes incorporates taped voices and the sound of the performers’ breathing as well as feedback from their quiet activities.
There’s something both intense and desultory about what these people do. The ambience is casual. Dance bags and water bottles sit here and there. Ludgers Lamers, Michel Yang, and Natali Radelic try things out and abandon them, add or remove garments. They dance in beautifully awkward, dodgy ways. Lamers’s body and limbs often appear at odds with one another, off balance, yet his fluid resilience creates a vision of flow. When people meet, they link oddly—someone’s armpit, say, nestling over someone else’s shoulder. Dialogues between Lawrence and Lamers connect strangely too. Sitting diagonally opposite each other, talking into hand-held mics in soft, matter-of-fact tones, they distance themselves by speaking in the third person. Amid their everyday memories, mysterious allusions crop up. Twice Lawrence asks, “Do you believe in the gods?” They refer to Athena standing in a doorway (Lamers draws a door), to a dragon. Completing each other’s sentences, or uninsistently altering them (“He wanted to leave,” “He said he wanted to leave”), they can seem farther apart than the space between their chairs, or as close as inside one another’s head. There’s something ineffably sensuous, ineffably lonely about their intertwining voices.
Chalking outlines becomes a way of confining someone else or attempting to freeze a moment or discovering an identity. Yet, as obsessively as this is executed, it’s rarely finished. Yang slumps against a wall and chalks around her head. Lamers traces Radelic’s hand and curly hair while she lies on the floor. When she moves, he’s left with an almost undecipherable fragment of her. Yang lies curled around him, and he draws parts of her outline on his clothes.
There are moments of humor in Hide and Seek. Lamer shows off for us, placing a ball here and there about his body, as if these were amazing tricks (all the while, Yang balances on one toe). But like the rest of this quiet, calm, precise piece, his act reiterates the fragility of human relationships, the stories we tell ourselves, the fables we live out.