Prisoners of Structure


In the 1970s, quite a few choreographers devised unusual systems to structure movement or engender it. Trisha Brown’s several “accumulation” pieces and her Locus were brilliant examples of a practice that’s rare today. You have to respect the young choreographer Megan V. Sprenger for attempting that kind of compositional strategy in her No Where, even though her choices severely limit the movement possibilities.

Collaborating with mathematician Sara Grundel, Sprenger devised a structure based on Pascal’s triangle—as the program says, a “geometrical arrangement of the binomial coefficients in a triangle”—assigning each movement to a number within the pyramid. Those movements—gestures, primarily—were generated by another source: Gregory Crewsdon’s surreal designed and staged photographs of American suburbia, especially those showing a solitary woman.

Brad Kisicki’s set emphasizes the triangle motif. About 11 hanging plywood panels—slightly separated, backed by a curtain, and arranged to form two sides of a triangle—slant slightly from behind the first row of the P.S. 122 audience to meet center stage. Three women stand motionless in the confined space. Within the aural landscape provided by Jason Sebastian, children play, birds chirp, cars pass, rain falls, but Tara O’Con, Maria Parshina, and Alli Ruszkowski are immured in the system that controls their every motion. We have plenty of time to scan them in their slightly grubby, nondescript trunks and layered tee-shirts and wonder when they’re going to move.

(left to right, background):
Maria Parshina and Tara O’Con, (foreground): Alli Ruszkowski

photo: Julieta Cervantes

When they finally stir, their sparse gestures, punctuated by long stillnesses, suggest either fragments of daily tasks or highly condensed expressions of emotion. Ruszowski, who stand closest to the audience and whose pale-eyed gaze is faintly hostile, suddenly sticks her right arm out to the side and shakes it furiously. Parshina gasps and throws both arms up. O’Con, the only one to travel from her spot, walks with her eyes closed and her feet carefully feeling out the terrain.

We see these moves and similar ones repeating according to the system we’ve been told about but can’t actually discern. Watching No Where is like leafing slowly through a pile of photographs, all taken of the same person on the same day. Now Parshina reaches down to scratch her leg, now Ruszkowski squats down and rakes her fingernails over the floor, now O’Con curls and uncurls her fingers—stretching them, pushing her hands down. As our eyes travel from one woman to another, every small gesture becomes iconic—Ruszkowski flicking something off her teeth, for instance, or cleaning a nail.

At some point, the actions occur closer together, creating an illusion of desperation or obsession before the pace calms down again. We impute fatigue to the women, or sadness or boredom, but they remain as neutral as possible. Each has her own set of moves, her own sequence; they pay no attention to one another until the end, when, presumably, they’ve completed the pattern. O’Con opens her eyes. Ruszkowski turns to look at the other two. Then she walks out the door.

I don’t know if I’d want to see the 45-minute work again (perhaps because its structure is so opaque), but its minimal eruptions of movement burn themselves into your brain—the residue of lives you can’t quite grasp but which you suspect might be your own.

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