I’m standing in a curtained booth in University Settlement’s old gym throwing punches at one of several George Bush inflatables. No surprise; it rocks back each time. I stop, deciding I’ve been lured into fighting violence with violence and had better move on. Or take the option of reading him a few of the Declaration of Independence’s eerily relevant objections to imperialism.
The pieces Jill Sigman has been making since 1998—quite a few of them site-specific—are designed to make you think. Her new Pulling the Wool: An American Landscape of Truth and Deception tackles grief over 9-11, the subsequent maze of disinformation, and the threat to individual freedoms. She’s not didactic. Trenchant ideas—witty or horrifying—are served up in an atmosphere not unlike that of a church bazaar. We’re free to wander, observing events, visiting private booths, and consulting fortune-tellers.
A sparkly projection of an American flag graces one wall (lighting and decor by Severn Clay). A roller skater (Jean Steiner) hawks drinks. At each end of the gym, a pair of female newscasters in blue suits deliver “broadcast news as extreme sport,” occasionally self-muting their jabber or gesticulating intensively. Once, while watching red-gowned soprano-composer Kristin Norderval on a high perch manipulate her Apple laptop, I glance over at them; all four newscasters are upended in their desks-cum-bins, their blue shoes in the air.
Sigman, after struggling to right herself against a wall and circling the room on crutches at a breakneck pace (she’s really injured), enters a white fabric cage overseen by two nurses/prison guards. While Sigman, on hands and knees, lip-synchs President Bush, they erect a toy battle on her back, with fences, cowboys, and Indians. Stripped of her corset and pants, she is laid out across a bin and handed scissors; carefully, without looking, she cuts holes in her sheer body stocking to reveal her nipples and pubic area. It’s hard to watch.
Among the other thought-stirring adventures are visits to two smiling hoaxers: “Martha Stewart Graham” (Mary McHale), who, with a turkey baster through her bun, interprets her own Graham-esque seizures to forecast your future, and “Aura Whitewater” (Victoria Murphy), who reads fortunes via Hillary Clinton’s autobiography (chancing on a reference to Desmond Tutu, she tells me I’ll make it big in the tutu business). In a booth labeled “Truth,” I write my deepest secret on a broken eggshell, pick a phone number from a jar, dial it, tell my secret to the answering voice, and add my own number to the jar. A few hours later, when I’m home, my cell phone rings, and I receive someone else’s secret (is it true?). I’ll never leak it. You can trust me. I think.
Sally Silvers is a remarkable choreographer, profoundly original in the way she conceives and structures movement. You leave a performance of her work, with its witty, sensitive, and surprising juxtapositions, feeling as if your nerves have been retuned. As she has matured, the “wild child” look of her early-1980s pieces has come to be more at ease with beauty without any loss of adventurous oddity.
The two double quartets of her latest piece, DREAMSDOCOMETRUE, refract in different ways her subject: the sleeping mind. The four women in “Metro Nightie” project the flashes of character and fleeting events encountered in dreams. Abby Chan, Noemí Segarra, Edisa Weeks, and Silvers begin as restless sleepers and progress through sleepwalking into a swirl of danced-out dream fragments. In Bruce Andrews’s elegantly engineered sound design, we hear snatches of Spanish voices singing of “sueño,” the familiar “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream,” and more. The women are lightly temperamental. At one point Weeks wallops the air with her extended leg while the other three move calmly together; when they talk at once, she screams. Earlier, she leans precariously, and they support her, but with their fists. They seem to slip in and out of one another’s dreams, not always in the same stratum.
In Part II, “Lustration,” Sigal Bergman, Alicia Díaz, Jamie Di Mare, and Alejandra Martorell—as fascinating as the first quartet—wear white draped dresses instead of the eccentrically layered white costumes of Part I (all by Elizabeth Hope Clancy and all terrific). These four women create a landscape that expresses less the fantasies of dream and more the rhythms, swelling curves, and jutting tangents of its process. But “Lustration” too is eventful and full of contrasts. Now the women sway gently side to side, or undulate their bodies. Now Martorell turns scrappy. Now they float, now swagger. The dancing twists and gleams in Kathy Kaufmann’s fine lighting and its own curious loveliness.
Silvers’s solo, Dang Me, is a robust, fastidiously engineered take on excerpts from great country songs by the Stanley Brothers (Silvers grew up in Tennessee). She never stops; each new song picks her up. Without violating the dance’s flow, she creates imaginatively skewed, sometimes drastic images based on the tender, heartsick words. “I sit here alone,” sings Carter Stanley, and, fleetingly, Silvers, standing on one leg, sets chin to hand and elbow to upraised knee before moving on. She acknowledges the sweet pathos of “Journey’s End” (“Oh, who will sing for me?”) simply by a hesitating diagonal passage that’s rich with dancing life.