Theater archives

No Way Out


It’s hard to believe that Alexandra Beller has made over 40 dance theater works since leaving the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 2001; I regret not having seen more of them. You Are Here, a revision of a piece she showed last spring, draws me in with its edgy juxtaposition of humor, disorientation, and creepiness. The world Beller creates—greatly aided by Mandy Ringger’s shifting lighting and Robert Poss’s live music (plus well-chosen recordings)—is a bleak one. Its inhabitants question who they are, where they are, and if they even exist; they remind us that we, too, may never get out of here. A telephone rings, but is there ever anyone on the line? Toni Melaas and Megan Brunsvold talk at cross-purposes. Eric Jackson Bradley, immobile at the back in half-light, speaks viciously to Lillian Stillwell; any responses come not from her but from voices that seem to emerge from the telephone.

Beller drew portions of her text from Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit
; however, she follows no narrative, and what cages her four people is not an antechamber to hell. It might be any dehumanized city or a theater under siege, any place where identity is lost or stolen and what you see or know today may vanish tomorrow. Green balloons seem to stand in for dreams, and green appears in some form on most of the inventively strange outfits (Jackson Bradley is also the costume designer). Melaas treats a helium-filled balloon as a dance partner, hovering over it, gently retrieving it when it tries to escape. She’s a ladylike flirt (pulling her flouncy skirt down after she’s rolled and spread her legs), given to disturbing bouts of wild laughter and sudden plops down into a sitting position. She also spouts rules for behavior on- and offstage, which range from not laughing too loudly to not fucking your children.

Every now and then one of the performers wheels a section of chain-link fence across the space. Melaas and Brunsvold first confront each other through fencing. Brunsvold is a tap dancer, even after Jackson Bradley has helped her step out of her shoes (which happen to anchor a host of balloons). However hostile and at odds the verbal exchanges between Melaas and Brunsvold, Melaas does at one point try copying Brunsvold’s steps to sweetly circusy accordion music. In another duet section, words die in Stillwell’s throat. It’s hard to be sure whether the “Go!” she yells over and over as she runs, always facing us, is a goad for herself or the first half of the “Go away!” that she finally hurls at Jackson Bradley. His prissy little steps and stiff bows suggest he might be a servant who also has an enigmatic but erotic relationship with his mistress. “Don’t!” she tells him, and “Go!” And then pairs the words.

While Jackson Bradley is singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and then flinging himself into dancing while Liza Minnelli has a go at the song, a recent storm of balloons is cleaned up and a chain-link enclosure is built by the crew and the rest of the cast members, who slip inside at the last minute.

Somewhere in the next part, the drama Beller has been building flags. Jackson Bradley keeps singing in a witty variety of voices. Jackets are shed and flung out of the pen. People reiterate their own dance phrases, their own words. Melaas kisses Brunsvold; Jackson Bradley tries to kiss her too but is rebuffed. All become briefly silent, still. Although two or three occasionally dance in unison, harmony is not a possibility. Meanwhile the music, Philip Glass’s by now, drenches them in a pulsing, swelling tide. I begin to tire, feeling as if I’m watching a movie that’s never going to reach its climax. Or stop. Which may be Beller’s point.