writers on dancing


Piece de Resistance:
Short Mean Lady at Dance Theater Workshop

"La la la la, Resistance (The Island of Breezes)"
Amanda Loulaki and Short Mean Lady
Dance Theater Workshop, New York
March 3, 2005

by Tom Phillips
copyright ©2005 byTom Phillips

Asked recently about her artistic influences, Amanda Loulaki refused to single out any, but added, “I think that is not a coincidence that ancient drama was Greek!!!!” This “short mean lady,” born in Crete, is not exactly a classicist, but her latest work has elements of Greek tragedy, along with rock video. “La la la la, Resistance (The Island of Breezes)” begins the way tragedies end, with a pile of corpses on the stage. They are sprawled there when the audience enters the theater, periodically re-arranged as the dead bodies take turns rising zombie-like and dragging the others around to form some new pattern. Then the lights come up, and the dead come to life, to re-enact a drama of struggle and failure that is as old as theater itself.

None of the five performers does anything that could be described as graceful. Mostly they roll and slide on the floor, toss and turn like manic insomniacs, convulse themselves as if trying to vomit out their guts, bounce up and down, and slam into each other like wrestlers, football players, drunken fools or rooting infants. Each of the five—two men and three women, including Loulaki—is a tragic protagonist, struggling against a personal fate articulated in movement and in speech. Early on, Jason Somma lays down the theme, confidently announcing that he can break through the rear wall of the set, a metallic white sheet that crackles like thunder when he leaps against it. Every atom, he tells us, has a breaking point, a weak link that can be exploited to smash the whole structure. All you have to do is hit it right. Over and over again, he aims for it, with flying dropkicks at the wall, which crackles but does not budge. The “breaking point,” in fact, is a delusion, the certainty of the human spirit that it can somehow break out of its unyielding fate.

For the Greeks, this hopeless struggle is the essence of tragedy, and ironically the source of heroism, which accounts for the odd grace that the ensemble achieves as it goes through its ugly repetitive gestures. For me, the most striking character was the youngest, Rebecca Serrell, a sullen, snarling teenager-type, exasperated with the forced excursions of her life. Enraged by a canoe trip and a day spent gathering oysters that no one knows what to do with, she mocks the song her mother sang her—“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.” No sunny fatalism for her, but a brassy, desperate resistance.

“Resistance” is in the title, but so is “la la la”, which stands for the fun in the struggle, and the melodic elements of the pieced-together sound score by Giorgios Kontos. It rocks, as does the minimal black-and white video by dancer Somma, which works like a child’s etch-a-sketch toy, where patterns are created, destroyed, and re-created. The costumes by Joanna Seitz make the cast look like a random sample of strollers in the park, a cross–section of the world’s ordinary tragic heroes. At the end, one of themvCarolyn Hall—is borne aloft and carried up the steeply raked aisle into the audience, pedaling on her partner’s hands, as the performers on stage begin to applaud. It’s an apotheosis more humble, but just as right in this context, as the ethereal departure of the heroine in Balanchine’s “Serenade.”

This piece was similar in form to much of the contemporary dance we’ve been seeing in New York. It’s short—well under an hour—but it comes with a pre-show, in this case the moveable pile of corpses that greets early arrivals from the half-lit stage. It also includes speech and song as well as dance, performed professionally by a cast that is obviously trained—like so many dancers—in a range of theater arts.

All kinds of traditional divisions are in danger of extinction today: curtains, intermissions, distinctions between dancers, actors, and singers, distinctions between real and stage personalities, even the gulf between performers and audience. Dance Theater Workshop invited this particular audience to stay and toast the artists after the show, and supplied wine and cheese in the lobby for all.

Why not?

Photos of Amanda Loulaki are by Joanna Seitz.

Volume 3, No. 10
March 7, 2005

copyright ©2005 Tom Phillips


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last updated on March 7, 2005