Barbara Mahler roots her choreography in distillation, as if she aims to extract the essence of her ideas, making them calmer and purer. Struggle is subdued, climax minimized. She could almost lull you to sleep, were it not for the intriguing ways she blends delicacy and strength and skews familiar movements. At the end of her Raw Tenderness, she balances on one leg with the other stretched out behind her. You’d never call the pose an arabesque; her arms are pressed against her sides, and her body forms a horizontal line from the top of her head to the tip of her toe. The image is that of a seesaw in perfect, unwavering equilibrium, a woman at ease in control.
Mahler, a noted teacher, views dance training as a voyage of self-discovery. The solos and a trio presented at Danspace also suggest journeys, although, unless you read the program, you mightn’t guess that they’re “based on the travels and stories of my grandfather.” Mahler condenses narrative into elements that affect the body. In Prologue, as Rebecca Pearl, subtly sensuous, uncurls and rolls out from a fetal position, swishing her long, dark hair, she occasionally regards the audience—warily, inquisitively. The last words sung caressingly (on tape) by Peruvian singer Atahualpa Yupanqui tell of setting forth, of walking on, and in the final silence, Pearl turns away, reaching out a hand as if to let something fall from it.
Fernando Maneca’s sound score sets Donna Costello in an urban landscape, with a roar of traffic and voices. Costello—her tall, lean, and long-legged body clad in black pants and a corselet (costumes by Patricia Dominguez and Mahler)— inscribes the space like a dark pencil, often seeming to be at the edge of a precipice, on the brink of something. In Her Body/Urbanscapes explores city solitude and togetherness. Mahler, Pearl, and Jessica Winograd may crawl toward us on their bellies and elbows in perfect synchrony, but they also feed into or drop out of an ongoing pattern. When two draw together, one is alone.
The short pieces overlap and refer to one another. A standing fan that Pearl turns on, as if to blow herself in a new direction, continues spinning during Costello’s solo. A projected video by Mahler that features rain splashing onto a dark parking lot also reveals glinting coins; a clinking sound is heard in Maneca’s score for the trio; and Mahler begins the final Raw Tenderness by scattering money as she dances. We can’t know the tales, only the telling.