Theater archives

Clinging to Life in Kate Weare’s Bridge of Sighs


Note to self: Try not to miss any performances by Kate Weare’s group. Enter in calendar: The Light Has Not the Arms to Carry Us (September 25, one of the “Fall for Dance” programs at City Center) and Bridge of Sighs plus a new work (June 25 through 27, 2009, Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church). While joining the fervent applause for the premiere of Bridge of Sighs at Jacob’s Pillow’s Doris Duke Studio, I’m thinking: “This is what I’ve been craving.” I understand many choreographers’ current interest in physical eclecticism and inconsistency in a falling-apart world, but Weare’s movement emerges from a fusion of ideas and emotion—gripping you with its actual heat and, in its pauses, altercations, and meltings, penetrating the complexities of human behavior.

Every dance by Weare that I’ve seen since she moved to New York eight years ago has stuck in my mind. In her 2007 Sinnerman (also shown at the Pillow), three women lie downstage, supine and motionless, their heads toward the audience, while Adrian Clark travels what might be a tricky terrain of memories, and Nina Simone sings the song that gives the work its title. What, indeed, is this man running from? When, for a few seconds, he joins the line of spectral women, they drum their feet startlingly against the floor. It’s as if, in awakening, they’re rapping against his conscience. They do very little, these three (Leslie Kraus, Stephanie Mas, and Weare), but when they stand and fix their skirts, that small gesture opens even deeper vistas for speculation, just before all four walk away into the darkness at the rear of the stage.

For Bridge of Sighs, the theater’s back curtain has been removed, and Brian Jones’s fine lighting warms the wooden barn walls. Astrud Angarita’s monotone clothes move easily in the ruckus of dancing. The original score by Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp of the band One Ring Zero alters with the prevailing mood—bringing in the beat of a march, turning its melodies sour, dredging up a slow waltz, falling silent.Passion—its joys and regrets and the shifting of partnerships—is hardly a new subject, but Weare makes it seem so. Bridge begins with Kraus and Douglas Gillespie contending in close range; their claps, slaps, sudden turns, and the thrust of their limbs conjure up a recklessly dissonant tango. They think better of kissing. Their duet ends disturbingly: Gillespie falls and, as Kraus backs away, Clark—who has suddenly appeared—catches her from behind and pulls her into a perch on his thighs. The two of them watch while Weare helps Gillespie to his feet, arches him backward against her, and pulls up his shirt. Clark carries Kraus toward them and helps her place her feet against Gillespie’s bare chest. As gentle as the gesture is, you feel it as a branding.

Whatever the motivation behind this piece, the four tremendous performers appear to be locked together in a cycle of changing allegiances—always watchful, always aware of one another. If their characters and drives were different, you might imagine you were watching a fever chart of Othello. There’s no jealousy here, however: Kraus, Weare, and Gillespie interlock in a trio. The two men dance together, as do the women, and, at one point, a perky musical beat brings out a happy sensuality in Weare and Kraus; side by side, in unison, they enjoy the swing of their hips.

Weare’s choreography employs the whole body expressively: The feet step in temperamental rhythms, the limbs lash and jab, the torsos curl and stretch. At the very end, Kraus and Clark watch while Weare, clinging to Gillespie, slowly slips down. He, staring into the distance, keeps lifting and lowering the arm meant to guard and embrace her, even after she has lain down at his feet. Submission? Irrevocable separation? Whatever it is, it could break your heart.

Maureen Fleming shared the bill with Weare’s group. Her solo choreography draws on her studies in Japanese butoh, in that her usually naked body is slightly whitened and her pace is slow. But she eschews the distortions that characterize the form. In The Sphere (1997), standing on a tall, almost invisible platform in the blue rays of Christopher Odo’s lighting, a red beam flickering at her breast, she orchestrates images of beauty tinged with incipient disaster. Arching deeply backward, she becomes a frozen wave. She bends to touch the ground and lifts one leg high, but what you see is a single, long, pale scimitar. In Dialogue of Self and Soul (2006), she dreamily merges and pulls against a stretched length of white fabric. In The Stairs (with Peter Phillips playing Philip Glass’s “Solo Piano: Metamorphosis II” live), she descends a shadowy staircase head-first, on her back—an exiled angel in agonizing free fall from heaven.