The Space Within


What you do about emptiness? Try somehow to fill it? Or confront it and wait? To be an artist is to have moments when ideas don’t come, and striving to find them can be like dredging a well and fearing you’ll never hit a spring. In the press kit for Amanda Loulaki’s Delirium, or that taste in my mouth, the choreographer speaks of combating feelings of depletion by starting to move without known plan or purpose and hoping that the emerging gestures will reveal meanings, perhaps inchoate ones, that come from a “deeper and richer layer of human experience”—just as water finally begins to seep into the bottom of the pit.

The process, of course, takes place in the studio, with Loulaki eventually shaping and directing what she and her highly creative dancers have come up with. Delirium begins in an atmosphere drenched in solitude, a place where individuals may enter one another’s dreams, but remain essentially alone. Loulaki, wearing a draped black cotton dress by Naoko Nagata, stands facing a distant corner. Pedro Osorio lies nearby on the floor. Carolyn Hall, wearing only black trunks is positioned closer to the audience, but also facing away Rebecca Serrell perches on a white wicker table set on a piece of fake grass, her back to us. Behind them, an angled “wall” of unbleached muslin backs a cream-colored slice of flooring. Seldom will anyone venture onto this small stage that Joanna Seitz has designed or acknowledge the two potted plants on either side of the space.

Rebecca Serrell (left) and Carolyn Hall (right)
photo: Joanna Seitz

Georgios Contos’s score begins with constant vibrating tones accompanies by a dry rattling. Mostly what we hear is inconspicuous, but sometimes the sound design swells ominously or introduces traces of music. In this landscape, the four performers move in ways both desultory and obsessive. Although they wander quietly into new situations, once there, their behavior often turns compulsive. A couple of times, Serrell races around the space for no apparent reason. She also lies on her side and runs frantically in that position. For a while, Osorio barely moves at all; eventually, he stretches out supine, stiff as a board, holding his head and feet off the floor, then collapses and commences rolling. Loulaki leans back and ripples her spine forward, almost as if she were expelling—trying to vomit—something; her head quivers. Hall expands that motion into serpentine convulsions and, at one point, shakes her head so hard and for so long that her short, whipping hair becomes a blur. I think that Loulaki cares less about how something looks than about how it feels—both to the performers and to us.

Frequently, sound and motion stop for a while, then lurch forward. In the quiet, we occasionally hear Loulaki or Serrell whispering into one of two hanging mics, their voice barely audible. “I can’t feel it,” Loulaki says, over and over. The dancers relate to one another only in restrained ways. While Hall is standing, bent forward from the hips, Serrell slips the halter of a black dress around her neck and fastens the waistband. Osorio, eating a tangerine, puts a slice into Serrell’s mouth when she finishes jumping near where he sits. Occasionally two of the women move side by side in unison.

The most sustained encounter touches on the nightmare violence that might precede the ultimate emptiness. As Loulaki shudders and undulates, a dark liquid seeps from her mouth and runs down her chest. She nuzzles her head against Osorio, then collapses backward, her feet sticking up into the air. He touches her legs, almost unseeing, and presses her feet against his face. Behind them, Kathy Kaufmann’s magical lighting creates an orange glow.

In the end, a box that Hall finally opens spills styrofoam peanuts. A fan blows them across the floor.

I watch Delirium thinking that nothing much is happening, then thinking that a great deal quivers under the skin of the dance—elusive, sad, maddening, beautiful.