Kimberly Bartosik’s arresting new Home in the Neon Heat intensifies her preoccupation with how light, sound, and movement transform space and are transformed by it. From one of the seats that line three sides of St. Mark’s sanctuary, I view the piece as a game deconstructed, but more importantly as a pulling apart of the ideas embodied in the rules, formations, pause-rush rhythms, and individual ordeals that frame sporting events.
Roderick Murray’s atmospheric sound and lighting—neon tubes aligned with the altar steps (and ripped into misalignment by him at halftime), a hanging tube at each church column, floodlights, and lamps that he moves to highlight particular moments—shape our perceptions. That he at one point blows a whistle and all the lights go out establishes him as more controlling than a Kabuki stagehand. The unpredictable alternation of sound and silence, light and darkness, counters the choreographic mix of stillness, simple motion, and vigorous dancing.
Cédric Andrieux, Eric Hoisington, Tara Lorenzen, and Derry Swan wear idiosyncratic sporty outfits by Karen Young; Lorenzen’s costume, for instance, is a sleeveless satin blouse and shorts in a red-and-white checkerboard pattern. Blue-white makeup surrounds both women’s eyes, and during a period for resting and adding sweaters or vests and ankle warmers, they acquire the black cheek smears with which football players ward off glare.
The beginning feels like a prelude. At a slow pace, dancers succeed one another in waiting motionless on the platform, marching along the edges of the space, and running in a circle, while loudspeakers emit a buzz of voices. They stand briefly in allotted spots amid the spectators. Somewhat later, Andrieux crawls laboriously along the borders of the sanctuary on his belly, hauling himself fist over fist.
Everything that happens is spare but rivetingly intense. Swan embarks on some big, loose, yet precise dancing; traveling sideways, covering ground, she practically creates a wind with her long, articulate legs. Hoisington is equally impressive in his own version of her passage. Then the two of them start scrambling across the nave on their stomachs, each clambering to get on top as they go. Murray brings in a low spotlight to illuminate their path. When they collapse, Andrieux, walking the perimeter, lunges over them without stopping and continues on his way.
The movement is rooted in Merce Cunningham’s style (Bartosik danced in his company for nine years), but while the superb dancers use their legs and feet like powerful precision equipment, and an erect spine is the point of return, they also wheel their arms and lurch their torsos around as they speed through patterns that heat up the room. In a long, fascinating solo, Lorenzen is almost tense with effort. We see all four as individuals, even though they focus on their demanding work and reveal little emotion, even in physical interactions.
Bartosik forces us to consider our roles as spectators. After the Swan-Hoisington event, Murray starts politely getting certain viewers to stand so he can move their chairs into the performing space and reseat them—one man here, another there, a man and a woman side by side. Now they’re part of the performance, and we can observe how one guy rarely turns his head to look at the dancers when they’re not in front of him, how the pair smile when they realize Lorenzen is winding a close circle around them. A siren sounds. Murray escorts them back to their original places.
After a while, the dancers recruit 10 people, including me, to stand among them. I listen to the four counting off in individual, sonorously meshing ways, wondering what the implications are for me. There are more of us than of them. Suddenly we’re alone, the only performers—observing one another, even as we’re observed. Blackout.