Watch out! Luke Miller’s coming through, and there’s no telling when he might start flashing those long legs around. I see Heather Olson reflected in several of the tall mirrors near me, but I’ll have to join that clump of people to view her in the flesh. Joseph Poulson is exchanging his sweaty shirt for another garment from a huge pile (he’s gone through quite a few outfits since selecting a filmy orange dress over trousers). Where has Peggy Cheng gotten to?
Viewing Yanira Castro’s Center of Sleep is like being in a dream yourself. You can roam the performing area at Dance Theater Workshop, searching for happenings that may not materialize where you thought they might, or you can hang out in one place and call whatever passes by your reality. Castro specializes in transforming spaces, and for this fascinating new work, both the audience’s usual seats and the sidelights have been swathed in plastic. Spectators and performers together occupy an onstage hall of mirrors that—depending on your angle of vision or how Roderick Murray’s ingenious lighting strikes them— can also become windows. Since these are on wheels, they can be moved by the four dancers to create temporary rooms and alcoves amid the wooden platforms and pillars. Larger, clear panes, fixed in place, create a washroom, where performers can splash water on their hot faces and come out spraying droplets as they dance. Murray is also credited with the design of the installation, which is brilliant; the hominess of new wood makes a tingling contrast with the disorienting reflective surfaces.
The sound score created by Stephen Moore is manipulated and added to by the composer, Michael Haleta, and Scott Smallwood. Unexpectedly, one of them will shake two tambourines discreetly or bounce a basketball, or pick up instruments and join together around the moveable command-center platform that holds a laptop, keyboard, etc.. I think I counted seven veiled, lightless “chandeliers” bristling with little speakers. The sound darts around as nimbly as the dancers.
Castro’s subject is the body and how it metamorphoses—the pregnant woman’s body, the embryo in the womb, and our bodies in dreams. The four performers begin naked in a small structure with translucent plastic panes. In this cramped uterine greenhouse, dimly seen, they slowly roll around together, suggesting both evolving forms and erotic fantasies. Some events allude to mothers and children—notably a brief, barely heard recorded dialogue and an unsettling scene on top of one tall platform. Miller, wearing only star-studded orange underpants and carrying a little backpack, ministers to Olson—both of them unhurried and neutral in manner. Plucking Q-tips from the fistful he takes from his pack, he cleans her ears and her navel, then brushes her teeth. The navel business (which makes both me and my companion wince in sympathy) links with earlier vignettes more erotic in nature; the performers pair up in various combinations here and there in the space, and kiss, or suck on one another’s bellies.
There are outbursts. For a long time, Poulson watches Olson thrash in a mirrored alcove, sometimes sitting, sometimes slamming herself against the walls and crashing to the floor or spitting out unintelligible words in a vicious whisper. Cheng stands on top of a circular platform level with the tops of our heads and, handed a mike, sings words like “You know how to shake that thing” in a voice so mild and inexpert that you guess this is a dream of glory, or, more likely, one of those nightmares where you’re onstage with no knowledge of what you’re supposed to be performing.
The strange flow of time in sleep and the transformations that occur are captured in a scene on a platform built out over the seating area. The men and women exchange roles and shirts for each repetition of a short, doubled two-person dialogue—banal but absurd. The pace keeps increasing, until dressing and talking overlap and roles blur. And movement itself transforms the body. You can discern Castro’s structures and themes in the fragmented bits of dancing. For instance, Cheng is thrusting her hips fiercely and jumping up and down in one small area, while others throw duvets around and nestle in them. But when she walks over to Poulson’s spot, she eventually picks up his more lyrical steps. And the terrific four, who are credited as collaborators, do band together at times and take big, energetic steps that stretch their bodies into the surrounding space.
The overall effect of the piece is of constant shifting. Sounds build to a roar and die away. Dancers rush past you. Their images slide onto the reflective surfaces and slip away again. The spaces defined by these moveable mirrors grow and shrink. You’re forced to step back; then suddenly a pathway opens up in front of you. Watching yourself watching the dancers, you’re part of Castro’s sleep visions too, the observer who has been handed, willy-nilly, a performer’s role (on opening night, video cameras were part of the traffic).
There’s a very important postlude. After Cheng, Miller, Olson, and Poulson have exited,
a woman (Ashley Steele) walks into view. She’s naked and seven-months pregnant. With her eyes almost closed, somnolent at first, she moves this heavy, metamorphosing body slowly. After a while, though, she’s undulating faster, whipping herself around. Without traveling much in space, she creates such a vortex of energy that you can imagine it bringing on labor. But she also conveys a heightened vision of the fetus and what it may feel as it lurches in its safe container, changing daily. Eventually she lies down to sleep on a high platform, and although she’s still bathed in golden light, we walk up the stairs and out of the dream.