writers on dancing


Dancers Needed?

Ed Tyler's "Sanctuary"
A Washington Performing Arts Society Commission
Gala Theatre at the Tivoli
Washington, DC, USA
Friday, October 14, 2005

by George Jackson
copyright ©2005 by
George Jackson

To do a painting of Ed Tyler's sanctuary, I'd commission an impressionist. What Tyler created on stage is a definite place, a box shaped space, but mutable in feeling and shifting in outline like a structure seen through fog, gray fog. Recent telecasts of hurricane shelters undoubtedly influenced what we saw, but so did notions of mental asylums and religious sanctity. The seven inhabitants of Tyler's sanctuary have individual feelings for the place as well as rudimentary communal ones. Some of these people, initially outside the structure, want to get in. Some on the inside want to get out, or at least they throw themselves at the walls in order to penetrate through or push them back. That doesn't happen, of course, so the colliders rebound or fall to the floor. For selected inmates it is clothing, including shoes, that functions as a sanctuary. These items are flimsy safe-havens, so changes of apparel go on almost constantly. One individual even seeks asylum inside a small travel bag, trying to pull the zipper shut. Time stands still much of the time. Only at the very end of the duration is there a sense of conclusion, a temporary coda—a calm in which drinks are poured. It is almost a cocktail party but of the melancholy sort with Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria" on piano and violin wafting in, the lights going out and a telephone ringing unanswered. On stage throughout "Sanctuary" there's lots of atmosphere. Is there, though, any dance?

Tyler's interest in movement concerns the body's interaction with objects. Not just with how clothing is removed and put on or how different cuts influence standing, sitting, walking and existential behavior, but with how a body partners with a punchbag or with a plastic chair. Bodies roll on the floor and plummet into mattresses. Body-to-body interactions are brief and consist mainly of interferences. Tyler doesn't indulge in teasing apart the dancers' linearity and volume or harnessing the trained musculature. Instead, he sets up situations where the laws of physics govern the consequences of actions whose causes we can only guess at. Expression, squeezing out the feelings hidden inside people to wrinkle the body's surface in telltale ways seems of little interest to him. After spending more than an hour with the Tyler seven, we hardly knew them. Nor was any one of them more prominent than another, not even Tyler as the only male. As storyteller, Tyler goes way beyond Antony Tudor in withholding information about his characters.

Undoubtedly, "Sanctuary" is that rarity, a theater piece about a place and not people. The characters' actions are monotone but not clean cut and patterned like Actors Workshop tasks or Judson Church games. Their fuzziness contributes to the shifting impressions of this sanctuary, which isn't a happy place but not the saddest either. It has none of the inherent cruelty of what may have been its predecessors in movement theater—Grotowski's plays. Ed Tyler is a gentler soul than the famous Pole.

The audience for "Sanctuary" sat in comfort in the Gala Theatre, unlike Grotowski's in a church, crowded into pews pushed so close together that there was no room for the knees. The Gala used to be the balcony of the Tivoli, one of Washington's first movie palaces. It stood vacant for years but now, like its Columbia Heights neighborhood, is being given a face-lift. Seat rows in the Gala are well raked, and overhead is the old theater's grandiose ceiling. Congratulations to WPAS for recruiting a decent venue to the Washington dance scene and, too, for the new dances it is sponsoring in this, its 40th anniversary season. Ed Tyler's is the first of 4 commissions.

Casting: Brooke Belott, Kelly Bond, Lillian Cho, Connie L. Fink, Meg Foley, Tzveta Kassabova, and the choreographer played the 7 people in the sanctuary. Their dance training gave "Sanctuary" a dynamic different from that of actors. Dan Ribaudo helped Tyler with lighting and sound. The music, besides the Schubert, was by Future Sounds of London, Gilbert & George, Big Bottom, Anouar Brahem, Kate Bush, Dusty Springfield and Jurgen Knieper.

Volume 3, No. 38
October 17, 2005
copyright ©2005 George Jackson



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last updated on October 17, 2005