Territories in Times Square: ZviDance; Keigwin & Company
Dance Project at The Duke on 42nd Street
Choreographer Zvi Gotheiner breaks new ground in his new work, “Territories,” and while he may not have struck gold, what he has unearthed is worth looking at. In a recent interview, Gotheiner said that “Territories” grew out of the events of September 11, 2001, events that re-ordered the world, and also his own experience as an Israeli living in America. Suddenly, he said, he felt like he was back in the middle east, in a place where people are defined by their nationality, race and religion, where “people are dying and other people are cheering.” At first he tried to turn his back on terror and get on with life, but it didn’t work. So, he said, he decided to try to create something about “borders and identities.”
This he has done, with mixed results. It’s a sharp departure from his earlier works, which were impressive for their feeling of integration and flow. In these earlier works, Zvi’s world looked like a complex community, where struggle was integrated into an aesthetic whole. Here we have a world shattered into fragments, into “territories” marked off and defined by the performers in their own personal strips and patches of light on the stage. It is as much a theatre piece as a dance, as the dancers also step forward to speak in their own voices. Ying-ying Shiau provides one of the most riveting moments, when she tells in frank terms her experience of being harassed twice in a day by African-Americans in New York, once with sexual taunts and later with racial ridicule. She moves herself to tears and rage, and we feel it; this is not just a performer but a real person, in the real world.
The piece begins with the international cast in a mock beauty pageant parade, mincing up a runway of light and introducing themselves: “I’m from the great state of Utah!” “I’m Miss Singapore!” “Muncie, Indiana!” (America’s famous “Middletown.”) Miss Muncie, Barbara Koch, develops a bitchy and menacing character throughout the piece, trumpeting her all-American values. In one section that hints of homegrown violence, she smashes toy trucks together on the floor, while a barbershop quartet sings “Home on the Range,” a college-type couple pursue each other in a drunken sex date, and two Asian girls yak on their cell phones.
The company’s dancing is as close and seamless as ever, from senior soloist and master teacher Elisa King to NYU grad student Jimmy Everett, and especially the two strong men who anchor the ensemble, Todd Allen and Eric Hoisington. But “Territories” is a wounded piece of work. Its individual dancers’ themes sometimes seem like purely personal meanderings, and though it lasts less than 90 minutes, it seems at least 15 minutes too long. Still, I believe it represents an artist’s honest struggle to respond to the world’s and his own traumatic experience. Gotheiner may have lost his center since 9/11, but he is not alone in that. And he offers no facile resolution. The piece ends with a fake TV weather forecast, delivered by Allen, predicting apocalyptic storms all over the globe. Then Ying-ying Shiau steps out alone, tracing the lines of her body with her hands, then moving a hand to her face and resolutely shutting her eyes.
A week earlier, Shiau gave another riveting performance at the same theatre with a different group, Keigwin & Company. The new work on the bill was called “Natural Selection,” an ensemble piece by Larry Keigwin about the survival of the fittest. It’s a present-day Darwinist vision of America, with men and women scrapping for supremacy, for their place at the top of the heap. In the end only one man is left, Alexander Gish, pumping iron and pushing space. But the high point of the jungle wars was Ying-ying Shiau, vaulting over a pile of people and flinging herself up the back wall of the set, then turning and running (!) horizontally across the wall, supported from below. Nothing could have been more different from her standing monologue in “Territories,” but the two were alike in her deadpan recklessness, her grace in extremity. This is a dancer whom natural selection should favor, strongly.
Keigwin & Co. and ZviDance led off the 11th annual 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project, which continues through March 20 at The Duke on 42nd Street.