Theater archives

What Does It All Mean?


As experienced choreographers know, sometimes a dance gets away from you, tacitly announcing in every rehearsal, “To hell with these fancy ideas; I mean what I mean.” Of course, not every dancemaker heeds this headstrong voice—or even hears it.

It’s probably a good thing that the spectators clustered around the little tables at BRIC, swigging water, don’t have the press release for the program curated by Marya Wethers on behalf of Danspace Project and BRICstudio. The works sharing the evening sometimes bear little overt resemblance to the words written about them.

We know that the slide projections in Paris-based Keïty Anjoure’s Velvet, of bags and bedrolls stuck in the crotches of trees, have something to do with the uprooted lives of Pakistani immigrants in Paris because the program says so. We can read in her bio that she aims to make work that “offers creative answers to post-modern questions surrounding sexual identity, globalism, and tradition.” These concerns (if not her answers) manifest themselves in a taped excerpt from an interview (“Permis de Penser”) conducted in French with what could be a German theorist and his translator. I hear “Nietzsche.” Is it possible I also hear, “My migraine is the headache of the culture”? In another tape, an American male voice speaks of a suicide and a burial. There’s also a conversation between two Pakistani women about a banyan tree.

But these resonate only waveringly with one another and with what we see: Anjoure, a fascinating performer, holding two candlesticks to light the pages on which Rob Stupay writes without acknowledging her presence, and dancing with a blend of wariness and wildness. Her halting poses and gestures (picking at her face, miming a flying insect near her head), the way she sits pushed back against a wall kicking furiously, her suddenly lavish torso movements, her bolder forays into space—all suggest displacement. I’m constantly aware of the whites of her eyes; she looks sideways warily, as if turning her head might give something about her away.

The title of Will Rawls’s Goodnight, Mush riffs off the book most parents know by heart, Goodnight Moon. Whether “mush” refers to sentimental mushiness, cereal, or huskies taking off across the tundra is moot. The four performers wear eccentrically layered clothes, like little kids playing dress-up with adult attire (Rawls has a couple of neckties in odd places). While he and Katie Workum saunter, stiff as dolls, twisting this way and that, Sharon Estacio and Reba Mehan—seated, with a quilt across their laps—work their way across the front of the low stage on their butts, breathing rhythmically, growling occasionally. If this piece, with its assorted pop vocal selections, has anything to do with a bedtime child saying goodnight to the cares of the day, then these are the composite phantoms, looming dreams, and jumbled memories that intercede between that ritual and sleep. As the four begin to move as a unit, gestures like holding one eye open, sticking out their tongues, and meowing blend with assertive, very well choreographed demented dancing. But as each of the performers dances alone, something looser and calmer begins to creep in.

Tamar-kali’s Dawtah: A Maiden in Solitude and Faye Driscoll’s OKface are a little more straightforward in their mysteriousness. Tamar-kali, known as a rock singer, has become deeply involved with Raqs Sharqi, the art of North Africa and the Middle East vulgarly known as “belly dance.” Bejeweled and wearing the traditional long skirt and top that bares her undulating midsection, she performs gravely and resiliently to musical selections by Solace. Most effective: her black shadow thrown on a slide of dark, bare landscape and her majestic presence as she she moves toward her climactic backbends bearing a tray of lit candles on her head. Is her dance about coming to terms with solitude? Could be. The other three works on the program all seem on some level to be a vision of people trying to dance out of their own skins, as if inner grains of sand were scratching sensitive places. Tamar-kali’s shakings are more about settling into the body, digging out a home there.

Driscoll is pretty unequivocal about discomfort and extreme states (keyed in with the taped screams and orgasmic cries that interrupt Low Deep’s music). OKface is prefaced by a deliberately blurry video of Driscoll thrashing around in space, and the compelling performer Noopur Singha follows suit—stumbling, banging against the walls of the room, jumping on stiff legs as if on a pogo stick, lying supine and pumping her pelvis. She examines the space but doesn’t seem to have a plan. She bares a shoulder in a desultory way. She sticks her fingers in her eyes. Although she hangs her head much of the time, she flashes a flirtatious smile from behind her hair. She’s attempting a sort of swan dive off the stage when the lights go out. Driscoll invites us to consider ideas about control and lack of control, about finesse and awkwardness. I can do that.

Thoughts I took away from this concert: Choreography can express matters beyond words but there are jobs that words do better; a dance usually means what it says, but doesn’t always say what it’s supposed to mean.