Two years ago, Laura Peterson showed a smart little work at Dixon Place called I Love Dan Flavin. She’s still channeling Flavin’s sculpture, but in ways Flavin would never dream of. In her new Forever, she, Christopher Hutchings, Kate Martel, and Stephanie Miracle are clad in saturated colors—interestingly cut tops and jeans folded up to mid-calf (costumes by Candice Thompson). Their dancing rims and traverses a large white circle laid on Dance New Amsterdam’s floor, and Amanda K. Ringger’s lighting makes them glow. In other words, they have a lot in common with Flavin’s neon-tube structures, but no neon tube ever worked up a sweat like these four people or reconfigured themselves so tirelessly.
The studio theater, with spectators seated on three sides, deepens Peterson’s immaculate perceptions. The circle on the floor enfolds three of the room’s pillars, and the wall-covering mirror on the distant fourth wall reflects in curiously askew ways the activities of blue (Hutchings), yellow (Martel), green (Miracle), and shocking pink (Peterson). The aural atmosphere is both taut and turbulent. Forever begins and ends with excerpts from “Cat Polk” by Dat Politics. In between we hear what the program credits as “24 mono events” by Lumerob (Rob Erickson)—mastered into a complex, zany texture leashed to a punchy, usually fast beat. Imagine a rap artist and an East Indian dance master trying to create order in a henhouse, while an occasional visiting falsetto bleats above the ruckus.
Peterson isn’t interested in telling stories. If you put aside Forever’s sleek clarity and candy-colored imagery, you might be watching a dance from the 1970s, when many choreographers were focusing on movement and form—querying how much repetition a viewer could stand, investigating how a phrase of movement looked when you turned it on its head, and giving counterpoint a starring role.
The four dancers begin by running the perimeter of the circle—joining in one by one and gradually playing with changes of speed and paths. When they segue into what I’d call Phrase #1, shifts in direction and spacing become more of a big deal. That’s because the phrase is a finely shaped piece of work—precise, deliberate, fairly even in terms of rhythm, but full of variety; the careful turning in or out of a planted foot, say, contrasts to a big sweep of a leg, a curling dip to the floor with the forthright swing of an arm. By the time Phrase #2 shows up, you’ve followed its predecessor through all its switches and slides in and out of unison, and you almost know it by heart. Or at least well enough to see that amid the Phrase #2 innovations, Miracle is running #1 backward.
Forever is only 50 minutes long, but it’s full of witty and beguiling images—delivered, for the most part, at a near-aerobic pace. After a while, rest periods are needed; each of the women lolls against a pillar, while Hutchings rolls in circles around the circle. One kooky phrase has the dancers hunched over until their spines form C’s, then convulsing —all the while keeping their heads cocked to the ceiling. They look as if they’re channeling 90-year-olds with problem coughs. And then there’s a sequence when they loosen up and run wild.
Fatigue becomes a component. Their bodies soften a little. So does the music. They pause. So does the music. Slowly raising their arms and rising onto their toes becomes a soothing adventure. But they and the score rebuild in fervor. Just before the quiet, wound-down ending, they present a carnival of light and sound and reprises. Hello Phrase #1. And a goodnight to all.
By the way, before or after the show, you can check out a fine lobby exhibit, “Isadora Goes Downtown,” curated by Stewart Schulman. Familiar sketches and photos of Isadora Duncan and her protégées mix with unusual, less well-known ones, as well as with lovely images of third-generation Duncan dancer Lori Belilove.
Tiffany Mills is blessed in her dancers. Of course, credit goes to Mills for her direction and choreography of Tomorrow’s Legs; also to dramaturge Peter Petralia, and to Kay Cummings, who’s billed as Joyce Residency Editing Advisor (I know a few artists who could use one of those). However, when I think back on the work, it’s not any overall shape or message that has stayed with me—it’s the vivid, deeply felt performing by Jeffrey Duval, Luke Gutgsell, Whitney Tucker, and Petra van Noort, all of whom contributed their own memories to the passages of text.
I remember Gutgsell’s sympathetically inviting Duval to “put your head in my lap” (I think in response to news of a death) and then scrabbling across the floor, with Duval in a tight headlock. The image is painful (Duval gets red in the face but makes no attempt to escape), yet it’s counteracted by Gutgsell’s clumsy, tender attitude toward his partner, once they get across the floor. Meanwhile Tucker drinks long and thirstily from a gallon jug.
All four performers make the dramatic points with ease and subtlety and dance wonderfully. Duval is especially good at small, disappointed reactions. The long, limber Gutgsell thrusting one leg high into the air behind him and tilting forward turns something like an arabesque penché into a vision of daring equilibrium.
Tomorrow’s Legs begins while the audience is still arriving. The dancers toss oranges from one to another until they’ve accumulated a wheelbarrow full. Duval craves an orange, and each time he’s about to get hold of one, it’s snatched away. Oranges get peeled and squished and rolled. Maybe they’re a symbol of memories—accumulating, being uncovered, devoured, sought for. It’s not entirely clear. But certainly the work’s main theme—however twistily it comes through—is recollection and the imprint certain moments leave on the soul. After telling a disturbing tale of a family dog coming home with a hole in his leg, perhaps because he got into a neighbor’s chicken coop and the neighbor revenged himself, Tucker says that she’s learned that that’s not what happened, and that the dog was just a short-term visitor to her home. Still, that doesn’t prevent her from lying supine and shuddering for a while.
Movement shapes and punctuates the stories. When Gutgsell speaks of a family friend, a man who took him fishing when he was a teenager, and then kissed him, his colleagues cluster around and blindfold him. Tucker keeps covering his mouth until he tells her to stop.
That kind of camaraderie shapes all the goings-on. As does a slippage between “performance” and rehearsal-style comments, like Tucker remarking, “I don’t understand what it [a lasgana recipe] has to do with anything.” At one point, the four line up on chairs, as if for a Q&A with the audience, and earnestly answer questions that were never posed.
Naoko Nagata’s costumes are understated and casual, as is Chris Hudac’s lighting. The musical mixture (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shocking Blue, L.E.D., Night Ark, and David Bowie) is neither insistent nor overbearing in relation to the dancing and the speaking. The focus is on these four very interesting people and the many little events that stud their coming together.