writers on dancing


The Scent of Change

"in this dream that dogs me"
Armitage Gone! Dance
The Duke on 42nd Street
New York, NY
November 30 - December 18, 2005

by Lisa Rinehart
copyright ©2005 by Lisa Rinehart

Karole Armitage, always struggling to be au courant, has sometimes failed to engage. Her leg-thwacking aggressive style, while rich in inventive geometry, sometimes leans toward a self-consciousness that's tedious. Even imaginative collaborations with top notch composers, designers and visual artists can't give substance to dances that boil down to sexy ballerinas (on and off pointe) strutting about with 'tude. That said, Armitage is a serious artist and unafraid of risk. Her newest work, "in this dream that dogs me," is a musing on the art of calligraphy and offers tantalizing glimpses of a heretofore unexposed emotional underbelly. With this piece, Armitage lets down her guard and gives us moments of aching sensuality and emotional nakedness, plunging beyond visual gymnastics to emerge, trembling, in a world perfumed with vulnerability.

Set to an intriguing score by composer/sampler Annie Gosfield, the piece begins with musicians perched above David Salle's simple set of suspended foil tubing snaking across a crimson background. Three men and one woman emerge in blue for an energetic quartet with the fluid grace of liquid ink. The incredibly buff Theresa Ruth Howard drives Leonides D. Arpon, Brian Carey Chung and William Isaac like a team of eager sled dogs as they wind themselves over, under and alongside of her. Armitage moves them about quickly like deft strokes of the brush, creating a traveling abstract of a Chinese character as it's put to paper, but never so literally that the movement is predictable. This is sleek, precise abstraction and it's beautiful, but the stroke that slays is when Howard and Chung slowly circle one another with heads cocked as though sniffing the air for each other's scent. The move is animalistic, but we are intensely aware they are driven by a humanistic melange of intellect, instinct and sexual awareness. They're no longer simply bodies in motion, but individuals with suggested back stories we want to guess at.

Another section begins provocatively with cellist Felix Fan seated onstage—bare chested and wearing pajama bottoms— looking like a sated lover. Is the object of love his cello, or Megumi Eda, the classically trained ballet dancer with the face of a sphinx, who stands nearby? The question hangs in the air as the first strike of Fan's bow initiates a protracted and vaguely sadistic duet between Eda and changing partners. With her taloned toe point and extreme flexibility, Eda could be the ideal Armitage female. Her fragile frame explodes into edgy angles as she strides into a wide second position and slaps her thighs with authority. She's even more captivating melting through delicate tai chi like moves that allow time for changing moods to play across her face—it's a fierce femininity not to be trifled with. Toward the duet's end, having practically consumed her dancing partners, Eda circles Fan closely— taking in his aroma with dreamy concentration. Apparently her couplings with other partners aren't emasculating enough— she snatches his music from the stand in a wicked coup de grace that confirms who's in control.

The last section of the dance begins with the two women dressed in white, balancing on demi-point with bent knees and facing upstage with arms outstretched as though suspended in water. Perhaps this is a reference to the bare page before the calligraphy artist brings the white to life? It doesn't matter as one has the sense that it's Armitage who's pausing to inhale the pulpy scent of clean rag paper before moving ahead. Indeed, at one point, the two women take turns leaning in close to one another to gather the other's smell the way one might caress fine silk. Amidst Armitage's customary athletics soft moments such as these are extremely powerful. They suggest something less tractable than bodies moved ingeniously from here to there and hint that Armitage has become confident enough to allow the mysterious hanging moments in her dance to speak for themselves.

The title of "in this dream that dogs me" is drawn from poet Philip Larkin, but I think it's an apt description of Armitage's evolution as a choreographer. She's proven to be tenacious and resilient, traveling to different continents and working with numerous collaborators in order to pursue her quest to, as she puts it, "create beautiful and symbolically meaningful movement that quickens our sense of the world." She continues to probe dance, layering and refining her work until it's fully her own—not an intellectual exercise intended to impress, but something deeply personal relying on passion as well as craft. She's caught the scent of her own creativity and let's hope she runs with it.

Volume 3, No. 45
December 5, 2005

copyright ©2005 Lisa Rinehart



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last updated on December 5, 2005