Howling at the Cosmos


Dayna and Gaelen Hanson. The names conjure up ample blonde daughters of a Minnesota dairy farmer, not the two foxy women (unrelated) who make up Seattle’s 33 Fainting Spells. Their pieces tend to combine eccentric, retro American robustness and European literary gloom. Their new Our Little Sunbeam is more text-laden than The Uninvited (1996) and Sorrow’s Sister (2000), both of which I found entrancing. In Sunbeam, the choreographers layer and intercut elements of Chekhov’s seldom-staged Ivanov with material and imagery from U.S. space-exploration projects of the ’60s and ’70s, toppling headlong into the postmodern quagmire.

A man struggles with guilt over infidelity to a dying wife. A man confined to a spaceship hangs in an infinite cosmos. A remark made by Gaelen Hanson to a Seattle newspaper about combining these texts gives a clue to Sunbeam‘s disconcerting jumpiness: “It made us feel that it is possible to take any two ideas and set them next to each other, that they are going to get to know each other. There is going to be some sort of play between them.” That’s different from organizing them to strike sparks off one another, as the collaged elements of the earlier pieces did.

Postmodern displacements add another layer. The two Hansons and Linas Phillips (all three terrific) comment on the work they’re developing as they perform it, even staging a hilariously incoherent Q&A session. One character’s remarks may come out of another’s mouth. Phillips growls out the words of the father of Ivanov’s coveted Sasha (Dayna), while Gaelen, holding a mic but not moving her lips, embodies the old grouch’s slouch, spraddle, and so-what’m-I-s’posed-to-do? gestures. There’s little dancing beyond slow disco and a beautifully voluptuous floor solo for Gaelen (as Ivanov’s wife) that comes from left field.

Jean Landry’s handsome set displays Earth as seen through outer-space windows. We hear the awed voices of astronauts and see zero gravity mocked when Phillips tries to merge canned spread with a floating slice of bread (via the Hansons manipulating strings). There are many vivid theatrical moments, and at times the two texts resonate eerily together, but the anything-can-go-with-anything aesthetic often dilutes the emotional impact of both. It’s clever to make Ivanov’s suicide (debated among the performers) coincide, sort of, with Waylon Jennings singing “Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself,” but there the two elements sit, like keys on a ring, unlocking nothing.

The second annual Howl Festival of East Village Arts included two dance evenings in its week-long glut of art shows, poetry readings, music, theater, burlesque, Wigstock, and parties. The festival promulgates the image of Loisaida as an enclave teeming with rambunctious artists (not that many of them can afford apartments there these days), and the performances curated by Barbara Bryan upheld the tradition of obstreperousness.

Yoshiko Chuma, however, presented a charged, coolly beautiful work, 7 x 7 x 7 Downtown, on a theme drawn from a Japanese tale of two stars (lovers) whose paths collide once a year on July 7. Seven splendid dancers work with, in, and around four seven-by-seven cuboid frames designed by Ralph Lee. They also throw tennis balls into haphazard orbits, emphasize timing with large handheld clocks or ticking metronomes, and merge briefly in duets to Jacob Burckhardt’s sensitive sound score. They also tilt and wheel the cubes; in one particularly stunning passage, Motoko Ikeda rolls and charges through space, seeming to pay no attention as her colleagues manipulate the frames seamlessly, briefly trapping her. Chuma herself, appearing occasionally, subtly expresses the anticipatory dread surrounding this annual meeting of entities in space.

The evening wildens after this. In “RMWA” (2004) & “RMW” (1993), Jennifer Monson and DD Dorvillier revisit and restate their long collaborative relationship. They begin with glam—heavy makeup and layers of curly wigs—and trade off soloing and watching each other. Their dancing charts a daring course between stability and instability; Monson is a mistress of direction changes so sudden that your eyes misfire. After an entr’acte in which they slap their now bare, wet backs against the floor and emit (I think) vaginal farts, they dress tough and slam into each other relentlessly; if either falls, she gets hauled up by the lapels and tackled anew. Cemented by a kiss, they roll and twist and stagger around the fulcrum of joined lips until exhaustion sets in. As the lights fade, Monson, lying on her back, holds a limp Dorvillier aloft; you have to imagine the embrace that follows victory.

An improvised duet by John Jasperse and Jennifer Miller is more mannerly although still bold. They’re wonderful together, both of them terrific and witty movers. He’s lanky, almost fragile in appearance, and warily fluid; she’s strong but soft, a walking gender statement with her curvy body, mop of black curls, and beard. He watches her; she senses him. Another duet, performed by dancer Jeremy Wade and musician Jon Moniaci, belies its pranksome title, Ooey Gooey. Twitching, vibrating, Wade works himself into a high-intensity marathon in which every part of his body twists and strains against every other part. It’s like watching a willed re-creation of a serious neuromuscular disorder, a smothered physical howl.

Anyone arriving topless at Friday’s post-performance party got 30 percent off at the door.

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