This is P.S.122? The upstairs space is almost filled by three sets of plywood bleachers facing what might be a corridor in an upscale hotel. Vertical strips on its soft ocher walls hint at moldings. Four large, oddball portraits by Claude Wampler enshrine Sarah Michelson, Parker Lutz, Mike Iveson, and Greg Zuccolo. Welcome to Michelson’s latest architecture-dance adventure.
Her brilliant, disturbing new Daylight, created in collaboration with the four dancers and architect Dominic Cullinan, is far starker than her smashing two-part Shadowmann (2003)—more compressed, more abstract, dedicated to the prizewinning architectural team of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the former of whom declared, “A building is a building. It cannot be read like a book.”
We do read Daylight, or try to, because of Michelson’s choices and the irrefutable humanity of the performers. The severe choreographic architecture and the dancers’ fierce, perhaps pointless energy trumpet urban alienation and displacement. Lights blaze, composer Iveson’s score bursts out in a pop song, and the four emerge from a doorway, trucking. Michelson and Lutz, their hair upswept, are glamorous in street-length black-and-gold party dresses and gold necklaces. Iveson and Zuccolo wear beige knit pants and untucked pink dress shirts. Sweat makes the two women glow, while the men get more and more rumpled, their wet shirts sticking to them.
A certain grandeur is somehow implied and subverted. With team precision and in big, clean, decisive moves, the cast passes back and forth along the corridor that Joe Levasseur’s lighting turns now peach, now pale blue. In Iveson’s score, played by an invisible band behind us, rap makes an entrance; so does fuller, sour-sweet instrumental music. Yet although the dancers—in a squad, in pairs, singly—carve space richly with vigorously swinging arms and striding feet, occasionally bat a leg high, and spin chains of turns, they also wave their arms wanly and softly (hailing what?) and twice open them to the heavens. They pause for long moments, looking into private distances or staring at one another. The effect is of people dancing their lifestyle without quite knowing why.
Because the seating isn’t steeply raked, we see them mostly from the hips up, except when they can be glimpsed down an aisle. Banks of upward-pointing lights between us and them emit a light smoke screen. I have to peer around a pillar to catch a rare moment of contact: Iveson, on one knee, presses his face against Zuccolo’s belly; Zuccolo strokes his hair absently. The women watch. It’s strange to feel you’re in a stadium but with the impeded viewpoint of a voyeur.
At the end, Lutz asks, “Roger, have you been swimming?” Pause. “Well, it’s fine if you have.” A perfect balance between incipient disapproval and laissez-faire. The dancers leave. We hear their feet shooshing along the floor behind us. Then, with the houselights on and bandleader Howie Statland singing his heartfelt “Ice Flowers,” new dancer Lindsey Fisher appears in the now dark corridor and executes very beautifully one of the long, valiant phrases.