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Vicky Shick Recalls Her Company’s Two-Nation Life


Vicky Shick arrived in New York from Budapest at age five. That was in 1956, the year of the Hungarian Revolution and the ensuing Soviet crackdown. These words of hers appear on the Foundation for Contemporary Arts’ website: “. . . [T]he effects of growing up in a displaced household of mostly women remain with me, even now. I’m often surprised that the urge to somehow touch this dislocation continues to preoccupy me.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, three of the choreographers whose companies she once graced are women (Susan Rethorst, Trisha Brown, and Sara Rudner). And almost all the memorable, understated dances that she has been making since the 1980s are households of women. Her new Glimpse is one of the exceptions: Its cast consists of Tamás Bakó and Hedvig Fekete from Hungary, Eva Karczag and Diane Madden (former colleagues of Shick’s in Brown’s company), Christine Elmo, and Shick herself. Glimpse, which premiered in Hungary in January, is a hands-across-the-seas collaboration.

The title is apt. I walk out of Saint Mark’s when the 50-minute piece is over, wishing I could come back in a week and find that the six members of this fascinating little society are still there, busy discovering even more about how they move and think together, locating the dislocations.

Glimpse, like all of Shick’s pieces, is richly sensuous, gentle yet robust, and forthright yet full of mysteries. She’s attentive to small details and nuances of movement. Shick herself slips and nudges her way into dancing—silky and deliberate. She often has a grave, faraway look on her face, as if she were remembering old stories or testing out new ones. The other dancers take on some of her qualities while retaining their own.

Shick has been collaborating with visual artist Barbara Kilpatrick for more than 15 years. For Glimpse, Kilpatrick swathes a large, irregularly cut piece of chain-link fence and suspends it above the performing area. This theme of softened, misted-over inflexibility is carried over into two big black-and-white photos of the sculpture that have been scanned onto fabric, stitched onto a single length of translucent gray cloth, and hung behind the action; a white curtain is draped on a wheeled metal coat rack. Folding chairs, a bench, and a table complete the set. Carol Mullins lights it gorgeously. Elise Kermani, also a frequent collaborator, sits to the side, engineering her soundscape (a subway train’s rumble, music on a scratchy record, a ringing of small bells, a woman’s taped voice, et al.).

The piece begins with an ending. Holding hands, the dancers advance and bow gravely, as if to recall their last action during the Budapest performance. Then they begin weaving in and out of the line of chairs, rearranging them as they run. This is not a pressured game; there’s a seat for everyone once they’re able to settle down. Now’s the time to take in Kilpatrick’s unusual costuming. She treats each performer like an individual artwork: Madden, for instance, wears a short, form-fitting black dress; Fekete’s gray-silk skirt is gathered horizontally; a black cummerbund holds in the lavender silk tunic that tops Shick’s black pants. The piece gives an illusion of fleetingness, although we’re given ample minutes to admire Karczag’s soft, stretched-out timing as she drapes her long, slender body around—now pausing, now springing. Shick sits and watches, too, before rising to join her old colleague. Sometimes they’re pressed tight together, nuzzling heads; sometimes they talk inaudibly or hold a big chunk of space between them. Both women have wonderful ways of emphasizing the differences between small gestures and big ones, between fluid motions and sudden stops.

Odd moments linger in the mind. Elmo, her back to us, perches on the bench and sings “My Darling Clementine,” lustily and slightly off-key. Bakó sits on the same bench to play solitaire while Madden and Elmo dance. Madden brings in a tray of liqueur glasses by way of refreshment. Bakó and Fekete try to fit their individual moves together. They, Elmo, and Madden join in a brief tight circle dance, or sit gravely, side by side, on the bench. All six lurch in a sort of line, as if taking a subway ride. They sing a snatch of folk song about someone whose “eyes are blue.”

Glimpse conjures up images of negotiating differences and discovering similarities. Sometimes I feel as if Shick is leafing through a scrapbook, commemorating the time that she and the others have spent together in two far-apart cities. “Remember the time that Tamás said . . .” “That was the day that Di got frustrated.” “What was the name of that café?” “What’s the English for pezsegni?” The choreography’s subtle movements and rhythms often embody these sorts of mundane transactions and mix them into a goulash of beautiful dancing.

At, read about Noémie Lafrance, Keith Hennessy, and Melanie Maar