When Annie-B Parson invited six choreographers to create five works “sourcing Stravinsky,” she didn’t imagine that so many of them would make pieces that actually used Stravinsky’s music. The only invitee who didn’t was Cynthia Hopkins, who posited in her dada-esque Tsimtsum a foiled collaboration between Stravinsky and Dylan Thomas, and imagined an excerpt that I think she said would scramble their last words or notes or acts. I’m not sure whether she actually did that, because her squeaky-high taped voice, accompanying her own echoeing one, became increasingly difficult to understand, what with the space helmet she initially wore and the pig snout she continued to wear as she prowled Jeff Sugg’s silver V of curtains and settled in a cozy nook with a chair and a lamp. In her goggles, massive silver robe, silver-tipped black gloves, and a flower-topped hat by Scully, she called to mind a Lower East Side diva of the ’60s lost in space. I think she mentioned global warming.
Others used or abused the epochal composer with varying degrees of wit and skill. In David Neumann’s timed-for-deadpan-comedy, hit the deck (studies and accidents), the crash of metal folding chairs hitting the floor offstage provided accents Igor Fedorovitch mightn’t have dreamed of, and Carol Helen Wong inserted long silences between short group of notes from various Etudes and worked herself up to attack the keyboard. The dancers wandered, exited, looked about expectantly, and plonked themselves into poses dead on climactic chords. Neumann incited a stiff, wacky march. The high point featured Taryn Griggs and Chris Yon dutifully thrusting their legs around to the composer’s 1940 “Tango” and getting rather tangled. Toward the end, a singer, Nicole Cherniak-Hyde, entered and “ah-oohed” elegantly while Neumann, Yon, and Paul Benney wrapped their arms around one another’s shoulders like drunken Ivans, and Griggs bent further and further back.
You might expect that Rennie Harris, given his hip-hop expertise, would whip the hell out of the rhythms of the final part of “Rite of Spring,” but his Heaven for an assembled group of five was more gestural. Three goth girls (Jen “B,” Emiko, and Ethrat) writhed and clawed and stomped and limped in unison, in response to a leader (Renegade). B-boy spins began to look like windups to trouble. Macbeth could use these witches. Their red-clad victim, Anthony “Why KNOTT” Denaro, got off some especially sensational floor spins, legs flicking rapidly around each other. Harris didn’t shape or direct the piece sharply enough to make the drama come alive.
You might not expect to have Stravinsky become a poster boy or a whipping boy for the current plight of the homeless. I think both happened in Dayna Hanson and Linas Phillips’s Track 11. Posing as folks (maybe homeless—their clothes were shabby but their gin was Tanqueray) earnestly ignorant about Stravinsky, Hansen and Phillips started out with very funny dialogue. We heard some of Stravinsky’s music when Hanson, holding a mike to a boombox, snuck after Phillips as he held forth; we heard more when she, an intriguing performer, danced to some of it with twisty nonchalance. Best of all, we heard and saw the composer conducting The Symphony of Psalms in a 1963 Toronto rehearsal. And eating. And talking to the musicians. We also saw his video image juxtaposed to those of two homeless men (or actors playing them?) interviewed earlier, as the piece gradually wandered into heartfelt, socially conscious fantasy.
Many in the opening night audience were there for one reason only: to see a new work by Yvonne Rainer, a legendary mover and shaker in the Judson Dance Theater during the ’60s; now a filmmaker, she hasn’t choreographed for years, and she never set a dance to music. Her AG Indexical, with a little help from H.M. lifted the evening several notches in terms of formal rigor, musicality, and wit. She utilized large chunks of George Balanchine’s choreography for his 1957 masterpiece Agon and the sparkling, edgy score Stravinsky wrote for it, whipping baroque conventions into dissonance. Rainer created another sort of dissonance. Balanchine opened his ballet with four male ballet dancers, uniform in their litheness and classical line. Four beguilingly different women tackle the same steps for Rainer: Emily Coates, a young, unmannered ex-New York City Ballet dancer (wearing pointe shoes), and three “downtown” performers—Patricia Hoffbauer, tall, lean, and bold; Pat Catterson, whose attack is much softer; and Sally Silvers, short, sturdy, and very subtly witty. They’re in this together and let you know it, sitting on an incongruous flowered ottoman to watch one another.
A video shows tiny faraway NYCB dancers in double and triple pas de quatre while we see details live and slightly out of whack. But Silvers turns the video around so she can see it when it’s her turn to perform—gallantly and as accurately as possible—the male solo from Agon ‘s first pas de trois. Rainer’s admiration for Balanchine and Stravinsky and her provocative subversion of their work balance beautifully. The famous pas de deux, in which a man bends a compliant woman into extreme positions, becomes a dance for four. Coates strikes the familar poses, but all the others help her out. She leans back against Hoffbauer, and Silvers and Catterson collaborate in picking up and displaying one of her long legs. To get the angle and purchase on Coates needed for the elaborate maneuvers, the partners have to hustle (graciously) around and crawl between one another’s legs. Catterson, not needed to help Coates revolve on one toe, walks ahead of her outstretched leg, making those beckoning gestures guys use to tell a driver, “c’mon back.” The duet for four is a hilarious take on Balanchinian tangles, as well as a loving comment on female solidarity. When it’s over, Coates exchanges her slippers for sneakers, and they all perform the same moves that opened the piece to Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther” theme, giving the steps only a hint of a jazzy swagger. Rainer used a similar device many years ago in a performance of her Trio A, inviting us to notice how our ears influenced our visual perception. The Mancini works beautifully with the steps, and reminds us not just that Rainer’s brilliant, but what a rich work Agon is.
Did you notice I switched to the present tense in discussing this piece? Maybe that’s because I’d really like to see it again.