Juliette Mapp is a classic example of a mid-career artist in the New York dance world. Hard at work here for over twenty years, she lands performing opportunities, teaching gigs, and a slew of awards and residencies to develop her choreography.
But Mapp has hit a familiar wall. She has a son, and raising a kid in the city carries hazards physical and emotional. Others might move to the suburbs and avoid the deranged people, on the sidewalk and in the subway, who threaten to slash and kill you and your child. Your little family might, at substantially higher cost, find a home with reliable heat. But when you’re a pillar of the community of downtown cultural workers, leaving the city isn’t an option.
Mapp, whose Luxury Rentals unfolds over ninety minutes in the St. Mark’s sanctuary, tries to distill the traumas of her metropolitan life into a dance work. Her real strength here is as a storyteller. In a tight, controlled voice she relates a series of violent incidents that took place as she ferried young Luca from home to preschool and from preschool to a freezing Williamsburg apartment with a broken boiler.
She speaks not to the audience but to barefoot colleagues gathered around a conference table, ostensibly in a meeting at Movement Research, one of the organizations that support her work. These friends — Levi Gonzalez, Kayvon Pourazar, and Jimena Paz — are clearly exhausted; they slide out of their chairs and nap under the table. They retreat into reading actual books. Occasionally they jump around or play a sophisticated three-way game of patty-cake. They also reach out to each other, forming, in delicate ways, connections essential to surviving the day-to-day grind.
They wear torn practice clothes; little about this work is “presentational” in a traditional sense. It’s private, intimate. Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” is played about a dozen times — ironically? as a generational anthem? — with a detour into the Velvet Underground’s “Prominent Men.” These artists are in a fragile situation, and Luxury Rentals is something of an incantation, a way of holding back the demons that surround them. An hour into their mostly understated offering, the performers tip the table over on its edge; it becomes a door-shaped screen onto which is projected John Jesurun’s black-and-white video of Pourazar dancing.
A yogi of my acquaintance reminds students that the only thing we have to spend is time, and the only thing we can give another person is attention. Mapp and her co-workers cluster together for warmth, protection, comfort, and consolation; what we watch is not virtuosity, but a community at the end of its tether. They’ve come too far to give up who they are. The threat they face is close at hand: life in a city without sufficient resources to treat its mentally ill or keep its children safe and warm. They show us what it’s like to be alive, alert, and aware in New York City in 2016. It isn’t pretty, and it’s likely to get worse.
But these performers have one another, and they have a set of developed skills. What the piece needs is an editor; at twenty minutes shorter, it would be stronger. Or maybe that’s the point. Every journey in this city takes twenty minutes longer than we think it will.
Choreographed by Juliette Mapp
Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church
131 East 10th Street
Through May 21