The press release for Ivy Baldwin’s Gone Missing (shown on a DTW program shared with Kate Weare) refers to secrecy that recalls Soviet-era oppression and mentions Edward Gorey’s books as an inspiration.
I’m glad I didn’t read the release before I saw Gone Missing (the audience wasn’t privy to the information), although it’s possible to discern those allusions in this wonderfully haunting dance-theater piece.
Baldwin shapes a few images and ideas with clear yet delicate strokes. She delineates a landscape of mystery and hidden perils like that of a dark fairy tale in which children driven from their homes journey through a desolate forest and thwart magic spells but possibly don’t survive. Synthetic snow covers the stage floor; six crooked cut-out fir trees (by Joe Powell) loom upstage. Our first vision is of Baldwin and Katy Pyle standing on the backs of Mindy Nelson and Lawrence Cassella. The latter two, on all fours, sway while Pyle and Baldwin mime rowing. Softly, they begin to sing a Russian folk song.
Although Gone Missing‘s women wear cotton dresses and the man wears only a shirt and trousers, this is a frozen world. When they exhale, we can almost see mist. They shiver. They freeze and have to be cracked loose. Danger is everywhere—in the intermittent rumblings and the drowning tinkle of a balalaika in Karinne Keithley’s score, and in Joe Lavasseur’s bleakly glistening lights. The four amazing performers, whose characters all have Slavic names, often whisper to one another or speak out loud in terse Russian.
In stylized pantomime, Baldwin shows us that beneath the snow-covered ice lurks a world from which many never return, like mythic heroes put under a spell. Pyle, lying down and making snow angels, falls through, arms and legs thrashing. Nelson rushes in, takes a deep breath, gropes downward, grabs her, and drags her safely away, gasping for air. Though this all takes place on a flat floor, we feel those chill depths. Later Baldwin and Cassella also fall in but manage to struggle out. In a terrifying moment, they kneel, and brushing the snow aside, appear to see innumerable others imprisoned beneath the ice. Toward the end, Cassella—rowing, calling out for Sasha (Pyle), forming a telescope with his hands—rescues the frozen women, but, as the choreography makes clear, the vanished are too numerous to save, and when the lights dim, Pyle is facedown on the ice, whispering.
While Baldwin creates almost no passages that could be called “dancing,” in Wet Road Weare uses a well-known dance form, the tango, to express struggles for dominance between partners. She herself, striding along narrow paths of light in high heels, squatting in corners, is both observer and stage manager, ushering in various of the four other gifted performers for new and arduous pairings. Katie Down’s score refers to tango music only subtly, and Weare creates wonderfully ingenious, often cruel variations on the steps. The tango’s ferocious moves—a foot thrust rapidly between a partner’s legs or a bent knee used as a hook while the embraced couples stride and turn—appear in many guises.
The initial section for two pairs demonstrates Weare’s expertise. But the meat of the piece lies in its more intimate duets. Jason Dietz Marchant ties a hood over Lindsey Dietz Marchant’s head and jolts her along like a doll, manipulating her with his feet as well as his hands. Later their roles are reversed. Now the guy is not only hooded but immobile. Before his partner starts shoving him, she rubs her face along the underside of his stiff, outstretched arm and down the side of his body, as if he were a sex toy.
The other couple, Leslie Kraus and Adrian Clark, perform a brutally uncomfortable erotic tango while lying interlocked on the floor, after which everyone watches Clark’s fine, twisty solo (he reiterates the same curious slide of a clubbed foot that Weare introduced at the outset). Then he undresses and waits. Kraus approaches and embraces him, wrapping as much of her skirt around him as she can, and they step into a slow, minimal dance—perhaps tender, certainly somnambulistic. At the end, Weare is left alone, watching the empty space, as if still uncertain how female power is best achieved yet ready to continue her uncompromising scrutiny.