Theater archives

Contemporary Work Evokes the Rituals of First Americans in Unique Urban Space


Tom Pearson created his site-specific Reel for the handsome rotunda of the U.S. Customs House, a beaux arts building that now houses a branch of the National Museum of the American Indian. Accompanied by live percussion and chanted vocals from Louis Mofsie and the Heyna Second Sons, the four dancers referred to Native American traditions as, ringed by a standing audience, they moved in the rotunda’s imposing elliptical arena, which is roofed, high above, by a magnificent oval skylight. Their movement—now angular and thrusting against the air, now sinuously splayed against the ground—looked as if it might belong to an ancient tribal culture with ties to various postmodern nations, and it was thrilling. Midway, there seemed to be an initiation rite and then a marriage. The finale comprised the weaving of a sky-blue web and spinning in place as if to assert proud claim to both territory and heritage.

A rich opener for this season’s third installment of the sampler series “Joyce SoHo Presents,” Breezy Berryman’s Widow’s Walk seemed rooted in contact improv. With no obvious structure and only the smallest hints of message, it satisfied simply through the precision, vitality, and rhythmic sense of its five robust dancers. An intriguing excerpt from Sharon Estacio’s Undergrowth kept two women horizontal on the floor—reaching, rolling, and tumbling, separately and entwined, the references to botanical nature an apt metaphor for human relationships. Janice Lancaster’s St. John’s Wort was a madcap romp for six twentysomethings playing teenager. The colorful passages were fun, if arch; the obligatory “dark” section midway through trite beyond tolerance. In Abby Man-Yee Chan’s Spectrum, sleek effects with projections failed to conceal the fact that not much was happening dance-wise. But overall, the program proved the series’ worth.