The title of Regina Nejman’s Frozen Baby does not, luckily, refer to a refrigerated infant, but to baby as in “hey baby!” and “whatcha doin’ tonight, baby?” (Tamsin Nutter and Kathy Wasik yell similar come-ons at us with increasingly frenetic energy). Come to think of it, there are a couple of references to little darlings in the piece. At one point, the cast lines up, waving and cooing at the audience, as if we spectators were ensconced in a very large pram. Later, Marcel Dou picks up tee-shirts that other cast members have peeled off and stuffs them under his own shirt to suggest a gender-bending pregnancy.
I read the press release for Frozen Baby after I saw the work and only then learned that it’s not the opposite of global warming that Nejman is dealing with, but the “freezing effects of time.” That explains the giddy desperation with which she and seven others celebrate desire and vigor and other warm-blooded states and drives.
Nejman was born in Brazil, and her movement mingles various modern dance styles, ballet, gymnastics, club dancing, and capoeira. She once performed with Donald Byrd/The Group, and anyone familiar with his work can imagine how she must have aced his incisive, take-no-prisoners choreography. The intriguing dance sequences she makes up exhibit a tough brand of finesse; they’re kinkily athletic, a bit brusque. You don’t see much flow or ease, although you do see heat; the performers generate a lot of that when they sway and pump their hips and advance like a parade of revelers at Carnival time in Rio.
Nejman peppers the piece with isolated allusions to the coming freeze; vivid vignettes that seem to have little effect on one another, except as related elements in a collage. In an overlong prelude, while the audience is being seated, women in white underwear move slowly and sensuously in glowing cylinders of clear plastic sheeting (the set and appropriately dreamy or garish lighting are by Mark T. Simpson). The tubes—suspended from above, touching the floor, able to rise and fall—at first suggest shower stalls in which warm water (we hear gushing sounds in Mio Morales’s score) forestalls the cold. Later encased performers mash their faces against the same encircling tubes, now suddenly hard. Amy Adams begins to shiver violently; others join her. Mary Madsen collapses and lies motionless, and, for a few minutes, Dou can’t coax her into waking up.
A sort of fate figure cum stage manager (Kristin Licata) wearing a red dress makes a pile of dry ice and brings water to pour over it to create vapor. The dancers set up a row of red goblets of steaming ice in front of the audience.
Frozen Baby‘s explosive dancing
The dancers add little skirts, belts, and shirts to their attire (costumes by Erin Murphy) as they carouse and seek partners. A lot of the carousing takes the form of powerful, sexy, sometimes explosive dancing and genial coupling to a variety of rich Brazilian pop music that Morales has mixed into his score. Marcos Vedoveto turns one of the plastic cages into a display case for gyrations that are self-preoccupied and erotic enough to melt any ice.
Nejman constructs every small unit of Frozen Baby with skill and imagination, but her grasp of the overall structure waxes and wanes. Dancers exit and enter for no apparent reason. You find yourself wondering if, say, Adams had to miss a rehearsal, and that’s why she wasn’t included in a particular scene. Although there’s a certain amount of build to the piece, it still sometimes seems as if a particular moment could fit almost anywhere in the mix. Only a return to plain underwear for the dancers and the recurrence of water sounds signal that the end is near. But what is the end, beyond a final dimming of the lights?