Theater archives

Getting (It) Together


The title of Amanda Loulaki’s La la la la, Resistance (The Island of Breezes) may refer to her birthplace, Crete. Or to the state of the world. Or to inter- and intrapersonal gale forces. Whatever her inspiration, the dance is a storm of movement. However, unlike those choreographers who give rough stuff a gloss of glamour, she makes violence awkwardly real and tempers it with makeshift tenderness.

Well before the 40-minute work starts, Loulaki, Caroline Hall, Pedro Osorio, Rebecca Serrell, and Jason Akira Somma lie heaped on a white floor against a white paper background. Occasionally someone rises, drags a colleague to a new position, and collapses again. When Georgios Kontos’s sound score (sampling various musicians) rouses the performers, and Chloë Z Brown blasts them with white-hot light, the waywardness of their bodies contrasts with the understated formality of Loulaki’s structure. They may go wild (all the dancers are listed as collaborating on the choreography), but as they crawl, roll, slide, and stick their butts in the air like a pack of deranged dogs, they also slip into unison or canon; they reprise phrases. Somma illustrates a mini-lecture about the breaking point of any object by repeatedly charging the white paper backdrop and striking it in a particular place. Immediately, squiggly black lines begin to race down and across it. What starts out looking like a map in progress becomes a scrawl; then the lines thicken and completely black out the patterns. Somma’s brilliant video installation also includes more peaceful black-and-white images of gulls and waves, but the traveling lines reinforce the dancers’ passionately scribbling limbs.

Here are some occurrences. Osorio sniffs Serrell as she lies on the floor. Once she’s up, he repeatedly waggles his pelvis against her and butts her to the floor. She runs off as if to vomit; he crawls after her. Somma lies inert while Loulaki, speaking rapidly in Greek, makes his hand caress her face. Hall performs alone as if she were holding onto sanity by remembering the steps. As Serrell sings in a childishly strident, out-of-tune voice with increasing desperation, her gestures illustrating the words become less and less coherent. In two simultaneous duets, men are held recklessly aloft as often as women, and at the end Somma walks up the aisle with Hall straddling his shoulder, as if to remind us that we’re all in whatever-this-is together. And whether we understand what drives Loulaki or not, it’s gripping to take a ride with her.

Art, meet Myrna. Sorry, that’s only her video image facing you; Myrna’s over there dancing with another guy. Oops, no, that’s you. Well, not really you, just your media clone. You two should get together.

Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer make work about who they are: a husband and wife who’ve been collaborating for 27 years. Recently, with the creative contributions of video experts Jim Monroe and Peter Bobrow, they’ve begun to investigate the many selves of a couple in playful, visually delightful, sometimes moving ways. Their new Under the Skin is the second part of a projected trilogy; the first, Seductive Reasoning, premiered at Joyce Soho in 2003 and last week opened the pair’s 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project season, with composer Robert Een accompanying his superb taped score with cello and vocals.

Reasoning explored their fantasies about each other and themselves in wonderfully magical ways. Skin is more intently focused. With the assistance of life-size video doubles, the two indeed get into each other’s skins, as long-married lovers are wont to do. A suspended curtain of six panels allows the live dancers to disappear momentarily and reappear (often in different clothes) as easily as their projected images do through the openings of a projected curtain. (The minute spatial calculations involved must be hair-raising.)

While Ken Field accompanies his score by playing his sax from the balcony, Bridgman and Packer merge and separate in witty ways. Words (gibberish, I think) sometimes fill the backdrop or pour down like rain over the performers. Once, Bridgman balances a pint-size Packer image on his hand; it turns into a pale pink cutout and floats up. White hoopskirts worn by either one or both become screens. His face appears under her skirt. His image’s hands dress her in his clothes. She sits and watches while he acquires “her” legs. As they wait, wearing the hoopskirts, their bare backs to us, virtual black evening gowns suddenly clothe them. At times, the transformations get almost too complex: Bridgman, his back to us, dons a shirt and pants while his clone, projected on his back and facing us, does the same thing.

The message is clear: Bridgman and Packer mean to show us, with immense precision, the blurring of one person into another in the day-to-day activities of an affectionately shared life. They also dance, their embraces and ballroom moves becoming additional metaphors for merging and separating with fluid ease. In the end, seeking each other through the cracks in the curtain, they acquire not just doubles but a horde of Arts and Myrnas looping dizzily into and out of sight. Do we always know which other self we’re trying to hold on to?

Paul Taylor excels at depravity. In some of his works, such as Last Look, Big Bertha, and Cloven Kingdom (all on view during the company’s 50th anniversary retrospective), he makes our inner demons—our vanities, sanctimony, lusts, cruelties—transform the bodies of his sublime dancers. They quake, scrabble along the floor, contort their limbs, do one another harm. You wouldn’t take these people for the same radiantly blithe athletes who bound through Taylor’s Aureole, say, or the tender lovers in Esplanade.

As its title implies, Taylor’s new Dante Variations, approaches the poet’s Inferno and its hellish torments as a series of disjunct scenes, with no guiding Virgil to link them. A sinner walks to center stage and starts suffering on cue. Actually, Taylor is not focusing on the truly evil, but, according to a program note, on the “nearly soulless” of Canto III—those assigned neither to heaven nor hell since, throughout their selfish lives, they incurred neither praise nor blame.

Dante isn’t one of Taylor’s shatteringly deep works, but it begins marvelously. The 10 dancers twitch, writhe, and shudder in individual agonies to the dire opening beats of György Ligeti’s Musica ricercata adapted for barrel organ. Because they’re ranged along the floor in a clustering line higher at the center than at either end, they resemble a bas-relief crammed into the pediment of a great edifice. Released from this, they break into a deranged folk dance, now and then dropping into tortured poses. Their prison uniforms (by Santo Loquasto) are moldily fashionable—little bras for the women and low-rise tights for all, in marbelized fabric.

When Silvia Nevjinsky slogs in a circle and then falls, three passing men are quick to construe her as prey, crawling over and under her. Taylor hampers various individuals with strips of white cloth (their limitation? their punishment?). Annmaria Mazzini struggles with wrists tied together. Robert Kleinendorst staggers on with a flapping piece of fabric attached to one toe (the comedy seems misplaced unless you consider the contribution of stupid buffoonery to society’s ills). Julie Tice is bound at the knees. After the doomed horde—magnified in shadows cast by Jennifer Tipton’s splendid lighting—circles Michelle Fleet and lifts her as if she were some noncommittal sex goddess, her worshippers blindfold and abandon her. Lisa Viola and Michael Trusnovec come together in an uncomfortable duet that’s neither cruel nor loving. !pWhen James Samson spins holding Tice and Fleet off the floor, they look as if they’re growing onto him. After more unhappy revels, they all (including Parisa Khobdeh and Sean Mahoney) roll back into their opening plastique.

The program on which Dante premiered also included two great early works and a very pleasing later one. Aureole (1962), beautifully restored, is danced with the appropriate blend of delicacy and robustness by Viola, Patrick Corbin, Richard Chen See, Fleet, and Amy Young. The unforgettable Three Epitaphs (1956), with its quintet of hunkered-down, hooded creatures that are so unlike us and yet so hilariously resemble us, never fails to delight audiences. The dancers are fine, although I thought Kleinendorst tended toward caricature. Company B (1991) takes us back to the sugar-sweet pop-music world of the ’40s, when the voices of the Andrews sisters soothed the home-front folks and drew them onto dance floors; yet behind the perky dancing, and sometimes closer to the center of things, Taylor shows women waiting and soldiers falling. The performances are high-spirited, with Andy LeBeau especially excellent in the frisky Latin rhythms of “Tico-Tico.”