Theater archives

The Labor Party


A city construction site throbs with enigmatic activity. Erecting a building is the obvious mission, but you can’t always discern specific aims amid the bustle of workers, equipment, and materials. Wally Cardona’s new Site wittily explores a similar atmosphere. He and his four splendid dancers (Julian Barnett, Kana Kimura, Joanna Kotze, and Bill Manka) spend as much time wrestling with wood and paper as they do dancing, and sometimes the supplies seem to manipulate them. The opening moments set the tone. A large rectangle of particle board set on end lurches toward us across brown paper panels joined by blue tape that hang stage left and extend halfway across the stage. Barnett, emerging from behind the rectangle, toils at tipping and rotating it, leaning against it, letting it fall. Finally the board retreats, taking him with it.

Back in 2005, Cardona’s Everywhere, with its forest of short, dark pillars, built toward a resolution of sorts. But in Site‘s dystopian workplace, small climaxes and possible endings thwart the expectations they raise, and Cardona deliberately blurs the distinctions between constructing and deconstructing. You’re never certain what, if anything, these laborers are trying so gravely and attentively to accomplish. At times, they seem to echo the shapes of the wooden slabs or to complete a design. Deliberately, fluently, they bend their bodies at right angles, twist their legs in and out, and swivel, performing even the richest movement phrases as if measuring and testing. They often disappear behind their wooden squares and rectangles, lie beneath them, and walk on them. They build a precariously balanced “house,” then arrange it into extinction. When the flooring rips, they patch it with more blue tape. Eventually, it too becomes material. Manka engulfs himself in crumpled paper like a hermit crab. Barnett and Cardona lie in a pile of it, each of them blanketed by a board with a woman treading on it. More wadded-up paper is toted on.

Far gentler sounds than those heard at building sites surround the goings-on. A lone trumpet calls out in Phil Kline’s adventurous score (sound design by Dave Cook); quiet piano music seeps in; drums thud. At moments, you envision a hidden ensemble of winds, brasses, and percussion, but it’s a shock when 16 members of the Capital High School Band walk on at the end to take a bow (when Site is performed in their home base of Helena, Montana, 50 band members will take part). The music helps convey the five performers’ touching devotion to formalized chaos. In the shifting landscapes created by Roderick Murray’s inspired lighting, you can imagine their mysterious, yet concrete actions repeating over eons.