Memory, like dancing, is a fugitive, sneaking around the stages of our brains. The rooms that seemed huge to us in childhood have dwindled. Words spoken during a long-ago argument seep out of context. In Kimberly Bartosik’s The Materiality of Impermanence, what might be memories of two people’s lives together are quickened by flashes of light and submerged sounds. We can’t parse them and are not, I suspect, meant to.
Bartosik and her collaborators make us very aware of materiality, of everything actually taking place in DTW’s black box. When we enter the theater, lighting designer Roderick Murray and composer Luke Fasano are sitting on the stage floor playing Scrabble. During the piece, dancer Mark Mann occasionally fiddles with the dials of two CD players that emit bits of Fasano’s score, often at the level of a distant murmur. At one point, Fasano himself holds a clicking sound device under a hanging microphone. Murray calls out lighting cues.
Yet these matter-of-fact signifiers of “reality” assume strange resonance. A woman’s voice emerges from the darkness behind us. “I wish I could just write a song,” she says. “I have lines and lines and verses and verses. . . .” When lights reveal the speaker, Bartosik, she’s at the top of one of the aisles, being slowly backed down the steps by the two men—Fasano wielding a mic on a pole close to her mouth and Murray holding a sheet of paper up in front of her. All the technical seams of the procession are showing, yet it has a fantastic aspect: Bartosik, talking nonstop, is being rewound into her memories (some of the text is by Alain Robbe-Grillet, a master of the plainspoken-half seen).
The Materiality of Impermanence is sparer and cooler than Bartosik’s two previous works, but, like them, it has a luminous elegance. Every small action seems to stand for a larger, buried one. Several times Bartosik and Mann strip down to their underwear, then re-dress. How many days and nights does this acknowledge? They move within and around a pattern of LED lights that Murray has laid on the floor. This blueprint of a house is not only pared down; it disappears at the flick of a switch. A single violent action like Mann swinging the suspended mic out over the audience is as shocking as it is enigmatic. We can’t guess why one of the big, standing, television-studio lamps suddenly glares at us. Sound is surrounded by silence, movement by stillness, light by darkness.
When Mann and Bartosik break into dancing, they attack the space. He has some kind of thrashing fit. She takes lunging giant steps through the “house,” her arms cleaving the air, her hands forming loose fists. Once, the two cling together, whispering in each other’s ear; then she gently pulls back his hood and takes off his knitted cap. Later she’s sitting, and he picks her up under the armpits and swings her around; she pulls a crumpled piece of paper from her sweater pocket and feeds it to him.
The second part adds another layer of mystery. Mann and Bartosik exit up the other aisle, and Joanna Kotze comes down it. They wear gray clothes (although a few tiny sparkles on Bartosik’s pants catch the light), but Glen Rumsey has dressed Kotze in a shimmering silver gym suit, edged in black. With her black hair and bangs, she looks like a movie star from the heyday of black and white. She prowls the perimeter of the house—her arms held back, her fingers splayed—advancing with high kicks and deep lunges, occasionally freezing. Fasano follows her around holding a small sound device. We hear guitar chords and words like “all about is water. . . .” He and Kotze walk along a diagonal path, hand in hand.
Murray’s stunning architecture of light frames each of the piece’s fragments of a life, or lives. It’s as if whatever binds two people together has frayed and then broken, trailing strands evocative of their former union. Perhaps that’s why The Materiality of Impermanence is strangely sad and chill. Passion has leaked from those broken connections, as in a black-and-white dream.
When I sneak into Saint Mark’s Church, Judith Sánchez Ruíz is taking her arms on a journey. I’m late (don’t ask), and her solo And I Forgot to Love started several minutes ago. It’s not just because of my transgression that I sit erect, don’t take off my coat, don’t grope for paper and pen; I’m transfixed. As anyone who saw her in Trisha Brown’s company knows, this Cuban-born woman is a tall, slim beauty; for this performance she has pulled her hair into a topknot and let it foam above her head like a mushroom cloud. She’s wearing a black lace dress with a moderately full skirt (I later learn that she began with the bodice rolled down and white tapes marking her torso). For long, absorbing moments, she weaves her elbows around each other in endlessly slipping-apart knots. Her arms build towers above her head that disintegrate before they fully form.
This incandescent evening, which she shares with Souleymane Badolo, is one of the Danspace Project events curated by choreographer Ralph Lemon under the title: “Platforms 2010: I get lost.” Lemon is interested in how cultures refract spiritual experience in ways both private and social (one of these events featured legendary filmmaker Maya Deren’s unedited footage of Haitian ritual).
Sánchez Ruíz’s exploration is a private one—spare except for the controlled lushness of her dancing and the unfathomable intensity of her gaze as she scans the space; she seems to see beyond the boundaries crated by Carol Mullins’s lighting. Occasionally we hear her taped voice, mostly speaking Spanish at a low volume, or delicate, intermittent sounds and musical tones by Dafnis Prieto. The movements that Sánchez Ruíz has created for herself combine awkwardness with elegance in arresting ways. Sitting on the floor, she keeps slapping her bent legs down—now turned-in, now turned out; it’s as if the fluid elbow dance has migrated to her knees. All the while, she’s rotating. At one point, lying down, she bends those knees and presses her pelvis upward, balancing her weight on her feet and shoulders. In that position, she pushes herself along the floor toward the exit door; it’s a long journey, and we might think the solo is ending. But, although she disappears briefly behind the carpeted platforms at the south end of the church, she returns, sliding herself into pockets of air: wary but strong, ready but bending in the wind.
Badolo’s Yaado is equally arresting. Like Sánchez Ruíz, he’s thoughtful, as if dancing were a private examination of experience—certainly not an ingratiating entertainment. At times, he appears to be seized by movement; at other times, he draws it out of the air. Although Diabata Youb plays his Cora during intermission, he and Tama player Kanoté Mamadou don’t contribute their gentle, complex plink of strings and rapid patter of percussion until well into the solo.
Badolo, born in Burkina Faso, has had a distinguished career in Africa and Europe. Standing near the musicians, wearing a traditional draped cream-colored pants and loose, sleeveless shirt (which he soon removes), he speaks to us—mostly in French, but also in Burunsi. He tells us the names of places where he was born and grew up, the names of family members. Yaado means cemetery; his mother bore 15 children, of whom 12 died at birth. Badolo is strong; his eyes are grim. His ritual involves a piece of cloth. He steps on it and pulls the front up tightly, so he can only walk forward in tiny steps; he kneels on it and flips his hands back and forth against the floor. He folds and refolds it, jumps on it, shakes it out, peers over it, and later wraps himself in it.
His dancing is intense, electric, connected to the ground. He ripples his torso so deeply and harshly that he seems to be adjusting his innards. His big, spraddled, bent-legged jumps explode into the air. When the musicians start playing, he adds his own percussion—first with his breath, later by slapping the flesh of his arms against his sides, hitting his chest or his knees with his hands, clicking his tongue—a whirlwind percussion machine. As if he were improvising, he calls out “black” to the stage manager; when the lamps go out, he says “light” to get them back on. The spectators have been moved from their seats to form a three-sided arena. Whatever village of the mind Badolo is in, he wants us there too. Lost with him.
For several years now, Miro Magloire’s New Chamber Ballet has been presenting small-scale, no-frills ballets in City Center’s Studio 4. What Magloire saves in theater rental, sets, and theatrical lighting goes toward live music and several two-performance “seasons” a year. His dancers—ballet professionals—wear mostly simple, well-cut attire by Candice Thompson. The large hall, with its architectural details (such as old-time molding) and its array of bell-shaped glass hanging lamps, plus Magloire’s gracious, erudite introduction of each dance and its music, gives a performance by his company the air of a salon—albeit a salon where wine and cupcakes are available at low prices.
Magloire, born in Munich and trained as a composer under Mauricio Kagel, switched his attention to dance when he moved to the States in his early twenties and played heavy-duty catch-up as both a performer and a choreographer. Much of the pleasure of NCB’s recent performances came from pianist Melody Fader and violinist Erik Carlson playing music by Luciano Berio, Stefan Weisman, Joseph Haydn, and Magloire himself. All three ballets by Magloire (a premiere by Emery LeCrone had to be postponed because of a dancer injury) were trios for three women—tasteful, predominantly mild-mannered, and finely constructed. The choreography doesn’t adhere rigidly to the music that accompanies it—sometimes floating easily on the surface, sometimes diving beneath the waves—but Magloire’s musicality is evident.
He also has an aptitude for modeling dancing bodies in space to exploit ballet’s three-dimensional possibilities as well as to affirm its essentially two-dimensional designs (an arabesque for instance). In an early work, Lace, whenever Lauren Toole, Victoria North, or Emery LeCrone is performing a short solo, the other two sit on the floor in poses that call up images from Greek friezes. Also reminiscent of antique statues: the way they stand with one arm curved over their head. Their calmness is a nice contrast to the intricacies of the solos and Berio’s virtuosic Sequenza VIII for violin, which at times suggests an attack of gnats. Amy Brandt, North, and LeCrone stride into Pas De… on a diagonal, in unison, and on pointe. Charging across many long silences in Magloire’s Two Pieces for Piano, they return several times to that advance. The three women are elegant in their black, variously cut leotards, and Magloire deploys them in a variety of designs that allude, he says, to 18th-century ballets. And Pas De…’s floor patterns—as well as its motif of a hand flicked in front of the face and repeated gentle bounces or sways within a position—bear him out.
Magloire has set his new Allegretto Innocente to Haydn’s Piano Sonata No. 32 and one movement from No. 54. For this, the choreographer has made use of a piece of black cloth that any two of the dancers (Brandt, North, and LeCrone) may hold up to curtain part of a soloist’s body or wrap around themselves to suggest noble mourners. As in the earlier pieces, the interplay between stillness and lively motion and between soloist and attendants is charmingly engineered.
These women are accomplished dancers, and the close quarters have an impact—both delightful and problematic—on how we perceive them. When Toole spins a light, effortless pirouette, with one leg raised behind her in attitude, close to the front row of seats, you can almost feel a breeze. When North, posed behind a soloist in Lace, looks as if she’s thinking about her laundry (instead of, say, watching her friend dance or looking out to a distant sea), it’s unduly distracting. And when any one of them projects for even a few seconds the look of faint disdain that often taints ballet manners, the inappropriateness is especially noticeable.
Maybe that’s part of why I appreciated Deborah Lohse’s Two. Not only do both Carlson and Fader, fine musicians, get to play Stefan Weisman’s commissioned score; the choreography demands that Emily SoRelle Adams and LeCrone focus intently on each other and the import of their actions. The idea is as simple as the women’s black sheaths. Adams is alone, writing the face and form of a companion on the air, kissing the back of her hand and holding it out to that someone. LeCrone enters—a real friend (or a dream of one), whose face can be limned and who kisses the outstretched hand. Doubt and anger begin to deform the companionable dancing. And although the two reconcile warily, in the end, Adams is again alone. Perhaps this sounds trite, but Lohse and the performers (neither, by the way, wearing toe shoes) make it seem both touching and believable.