In today’s dances, performers often engage in fits of slash, jab, and twitch that could reflect urban angst or the electric shocks of a digitized world. Tamar Rogoff’s worldview is more thoughtful. Like her wonderful 2002 Daughter of a Pacifist Soldier, her new Edith & Jenny makes use of media and postmodern devices like the cross-referencing of past and present, but the movement she creates reveals a range of feelings. Watching Edith & Jenny in the intimate space of P.S.122, you can almost sense on your own skin the touch of the piece’s two protagonists.
This is the story. One upon a time, Ariel and Claire were best friends. Both attended P.S.3; both took Ellen Robbins’s children’s-dance classes. In 1988 Ariel’s mom (Rogoff) planned to choreograph a duet for them. In 1989, each acted in a different movie by Jeffrey Mueller, a student in Columbia’s graduate film program—Claire playing Edith in Dreams of Love and Ariel playing Jenny in Coyote Mountain. Claire Danes grew up to be a film actress, Ariel Rogoff Flavin a clinical social worker. A few years ago, their renewed friendship rekindled Danes’s love of dance. Last year, Rogoff created a solo for her, Christina Olson: American Model.
Edith & Jenny juxtaposes the real bond between the two performers with a projection of what might have happened had the characters they played at age 11 met as adults. From time to time, an ingenious mobile triptych of gray screens by Michael Casselli holds stills and footage from Mueller’s films along with nightmarish digital effects by Raj Soni with Eric Wagner and Tanika Goudeau.
Judging from the brief excerpts projected, both movies involved neglected or abused daughters. Both have shots of the girls running and running. The adult Flavin has been inserted into a
Dreams of Love scene; lying on the bed beside the child Danes, she tosses and turns, as if wishing to bridge the gaps between past and present, stage and screen, and comfort Edith.
Rogoff’s opening provides an ironic take on child abuse. Bound together in a single ruffled white skirt, the two smile and flirt outrageously while lip-synching the words we hear so ebulliently sung by Maurice Chevalier: “Thank heaven for little girls.” The women are bound together in deeper ways too. Sitting on the floor, their backs touching, each reaches gently behind her to explore the face she can’t see. In one of their more energetic tumbling, lifting passages, they dance with their chins pressed together.
Rogoff’s choreography emphasizes the healing ways in which friends may enter each other’s stories. Flavin leads Danes in a slow walk in front of a desert landscape from Coyote Mountain. Danes echoes steps from Flavin’s solo and vice versa. The moment when Danes steps beneath the arch of Flavin’s arm resonates against a gesture she has repeated before when alone, twisting to peer under her crooked elbow at something behind her. Flavin frequently pulls her hair into two bunches; once, Danes (perhaps channeling Jenny’s feckless mother) roughly does it for her. When Danes sits looking up, and a projected page from the Dreams of Love script tells us her father is yelling down the cellar stairs to her, Flavin leans over from a catwalk above the screen and watches her from a similar perspective.
Everything about the production is sensitively designed: the set, the projections, Garo Sparo’s costumes, David Ferri’s lighting, Cebello Morales’s delicately atmospheric music (some perhaps from his score for Coyote Mountain), and the choreography. The two beautiful women—Danes tall, slim, and fair-haired; Flavin shorter, sturdier, and darker—perform as if in every balance, every reach, every embrace, thoughts and memories were sliding through their responsive limbs.
At villagevoice.com/dance, read Jowitt on Ron Brown/Evidence and Jerome Robbins’s Dybbuk.