It’s not often I get a suicide note on a DVD. I pop it into the player, and here sit choreographers Rosane Chamecki and Andrea Lerner, side by side, in closeup. Lerner, looking a little teary, speaks the classic opener: “Dear friends, by the time you get this letter. . . .” Speaking alternately, the two use terms like “ disappearance” and “sudden death.” “The voice is quiet,” says Chamecki, “and the space is white. Not the color white. But the white of pure emptiness.”
This “letter” and the performance of Exit at the Kitchen some weeks later only confirm how much the dance scene in New York will miss Chameckilerner, the profound collaboration between two Brazilian dancer-choreographers who appeared here in 2002 and enriched our lives with such works as Antonio Caido (1996), Poor Reality (2001), Visible Content (2003), and Costumes by God (2005).
The floor in the Kitchen’s black-box theater is white, and Chamecki and Lerner never appear in the flesh. Two large screens—one on each side of the audience—show the women seated at a table against a white background. Sometimes during Exit, they’re together; sometimes Chamecki appears on one screen, Lerner on the other; sometimes both screens are empty.
Three additional screens (large, smaller, very small) hang above the stage. Initially they hold images of a grand red velvet curtain, but once the curtain rises, the screens are periodically inhabited by harsh black-and-white videos of those who responded to the announcement of Chameckilerner’s demise and the invitation to be interviewed on camera (I was among them). Almost to the point of overload, choreographers, dancers, designers, and curators speculate with amusement, puzzlement, sadness, and understanding about why these two extraordinarily interesting choreographers might have decided to kill their company. At one point in Exit, the two women appear in a very funny film by Mark Caruso. In a boxing ring, equipped with gloves and mouthguards, they put up their dukes and start slugging slo-mo, while an old, waltzy pop tune plays. Ouch! Chamecki lands a punch, and Lerner is down. No she’s getting up, ready to fight. Now Chamecki’s down. Then Lerner falls too. We know what these two will lose by the breakup of their partnership; what each will gain is still unknown.
Onstage, the choreographers are represented by dancers Erin Cornell and Caitlin Marz. Wearing casual tops and fancily cut miniskirts by Jussara Lee, the two women perform an elegant assemblage of passages from Chameckilerner works over the past 15 years. Watching Exit, I revisit not just familiar moments from extremely diverse pieces, but the choreographers’ approach to movement as a whole. This is beautiful work: earthy, clearly defined in space, sensual, forthright. Cornell and Marz perform wonderfully—whether their job is to explore in unison how carefully and smoothly they can settle into one hip, lift a shoulder, and twist a leg, or whether they have to make their features appear to be melting.
Chamecki and Lerner know just how to best vary steps—turning them in different directions, altering their speed and dynamics, and so on. Near the beginning of Exit, Cornell and Marz run through a series of poses on the floor, separating each as if they were letters of an alphabet. Then they accelerate these into an aerobic burst. Later still, they present the same, or similar, poses in a smoothly unfolding sequence. A unison passage in which they seem to be rearranging their joints into different alignments makes a comeback as a canon.
However serenely performed, many of the events convey violence (mutual, dogged hair-pulling) or sexual encounters (a mouth hovering close to a crotch). The dancers spread their legs and hump space. They wiggle as if trying to shed their skins. They stand face to face and create a repetitive pattern that includes one holding the other’s nose as well as the two embracing. Later, face to face, eyes closed, they seem to be seeking each other by scent.
Reconfigured for two people, the material from previous dances comes to stand for both the joys and the pressures of a collaboration as intense as Lerner’s and Chamecki’s. When Cornell forms a pose and Marz fits herself into it, and vice versa, we see how natural it might be for one choreographer to complete another’s idea. When their limbs become incredibly knotted, we can imagine a creative impasse. And the opening measures of Beethoven’s Für Elise, repeated over and over on a music box, suggests a veritable dead end.
A charming, funny, and touching film (directed by Phil Harder) that’s projected near the end of Exit presents a contrasting vision. In Flying Papers, Flying, and Ballerina, Chamecki and Lerner, strapped into big white wings, take to the air (with the help of photographer Darren Roark’s editing). They weave around the pillars of a colonnade, skim past a graffiti-strewn wall, and fly through a stand of reeds. They’re together, but also free of each other. In one of the interview excerpts, choreographer DD Dorvillier asks, “What is that nothingness? Can you hold it in your hand? Maybe not, but eventually Lerner and Chamecki may individually view that “white of pure emptiness” the way a writer contemplates a blank page. In the exciting, terrifying moment before the first words rush in to fill it, all is possible.
Chameckilerner is dead. Long live Roseane Chamecki and Andrea Lerner!