Jody Sperling has been studying Loie Fuller for some time—re-imagining the solos of this fin-de-siècle American dancer and devising new works inspired by them and the vaudeville milieu that spawned them. Fuller transformed herself, via immensely long silk gowns and innovative lighting, into images drawn from nature. Her flowers and butterflies and such drove the Symbolist poets and Art Nouveau artists of Paris mad with pleasure. Sperling has mastered Fuller’s art of manipulating fabric via long concealed wands, and, even in this hi-tech era, it’s wonderful to see her create swirling, evolving forms that might have been captured by a time-lapse camera. In her new Ghosts, David Ferri’s changeable lighting magnifies shadows cast by Emily Lutin, Andrea Skurr, and Sperling (a stock Fuller effect), while Roger Hanna’s projections cast microscopic forms onto their constantly moving costumes. In one brief appearance, Sperling is visible only by the flashing LED lights on her bodysuit, and Quentin Chiappetta’s gamelan-inspired score at times induces quicker movements than did the piano pieces Fuller favored.
In Sperling’s seven-scene take on Fuller’s 1908 Ballet of Light, Hanna’s curious projections aim to convey firelight, stars, an aurora borealis, and other phenomena honor Fuller’s magic lantern tricks. The prologue charmingly groups young women in white tunics into “aesthetic” tableaux of the sort seen in 19th-century salon performances, but despite some lovely moments, most of these seven “Muses” (students in the Barnard College Dance Department) walk matter-of-factly (if genteelly), rather than skimming and floating through the simple patterns designed to mobilize their white scarves.
I enjoy Sperling’s wacky, ironic updates on vaudeville acts. In her new Bang for the Buck, to Chiappetta’s clangorously rowdy score, much goes wrong or perplexes the participants. Skurr walks on her hands, Sperling twirls more hoops with each entrance, Lutin gets yanked offstage by a white length of cloth she’s hauling herself along on. Chriselle Tidrick, on stilts, performs a patronizing trio with the much, much shorter Lutin and Skurr. Skits dribble away without climax (or pretend a climax when none exists). Life on the Orpheum Circuit from hell.