writers on dancing


A Dancer's Dancer

Vicky Shick, Elise Kermani, and Barbara Kilpatrick
Danspace Project
St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
New York, New York
March 18, 2005

by Nancy Dalva
copyright ©2005 by Nancy Dalva

The latest installment of the decade-long collaboration of the choreographer Vicky Shick and the visual artist Barbara Kilpatrick, recently joined by composer Elise Kermani, transpires as several chapters, or short stories, in their ongoing saga. If you can call it that. Theirs is work that is the opposite of epic: self-effacing, pellucid, gorgeously economical, subsuming and alluding, given to modest epiphanies.

If their previous work, "Undoing" (2003) was erased, hidden, like a narrative with most of the words whited out, this new work is just the opposite, but equally spare and delicate. Not something rubbed out, but something suggested. Not dance as fragment, but dance as clue. Kermani's shimmering sound score (including the eerie notes elicited from wine glasses filled with water) functions like a film score, a sonic backdrop, providing emotional weather, transitions, tone. Kilpatrick's constructions involve, as in their past piece, garments and curtains, but not to hide within or behind. Instead, two crumpled white fiberglass panels serve as a pillars, at once suggesting window glass and the draperies that shade them. To one side is a fragile sculpture of a dress, crackly and creamy, decorated with clear lights. It might stand for a wedding dress, or a prom dress, or a ballet costume, or none of these. A dress, after all, might just be a dress. Something to try on, to fit into, to dream of wearing, to remember having worn.

Both performers in the piece, Shick and Jodi Melnick, are what you might call dancers's dancers. (Indeed, the audience was filled with such performers, there to see one of their own kind.) Shick was a member of the Trisha Brown Dance Company for six years, is a noted teacher, and has worked with many other choreographers, among them Yoshiko Chuma, Irène Hultman, Risa Jaroslow, Daniel Lepkoff, Barhara Mahler, Wendy Perron, Stephen Petronio, Susan Rethorst, and Sara Rudner. Melnick danced with Twyla Tharp and Hultman, and performs with Rudner and Rethorst as well as Shick, and has appeared with Chuma, Dennis O'Conner, Yves Musard, and Donna Uchizono. Since 2002, she has worked with Trisha Brown, first as assistant director on "Winterriese," and then re-staging the work. Each is an exceptional performer-actress, in what might be considered the dance equivalent of method-acting, though in this new piece there is an alluring break-out moment when Shick turns her back and yields the floor to Melnick, the music kicks in, and all of a sudden we're given Giselle's mad scene, complete with tumbling hair, and the tumble to the floor.

Not that Shick's yielding to Melnick is unique to that moment, for Shick is the ultimate yielder, and the most reluctant occupier of a spotlight I have ever observed, and yet there she is, nonetheless, with her clear, shimmering physicality, like silver organza, like a beautiful pale giraffe, completely elegant, not at all chic. She is modest in the extreme, and lovely in the extreme, and her work to me has the quality of a Barbara Pym novel, or an Alice Munro short story. That is, no matter what the details of what appears to be some sort of narration, it is the tone that speaks to me, and to which I respond. I don't have a certain idea of what the dancers are doing, but I feel certain I know what they are thinking, or feeling.

I see Shick partner Melnick, and I think about the desire of women, particularly the mothers of sons and the sisters of brothers, for female companionship. Shick might be Melnick's mother, for she helps her with her shoes—black shoes, on bare vulnerable feet, offsetting her pretty legs—and with a skirt that is a lighted sculpture (later matched with a lighted bolero for Shick, not especially successful, but neither intrusive). She might be her sister, or her aunt. Or she might be her choreographer, her teacher, or, in fact, her novelist. Or Melnick might be her younger self. She might be all of these things, or none, but their connection was real, is real.

I see Shick dance alone, her long torso wrapped in a black tunic, her legs hidden in cropped black trousers, trapped in Carol Mullin's uncompromising light, and I see the way I feel in the middle of the night, sitting up in bed and thinking—restless, confined, distracted, dreamless, unsettled. I see Melnick dance alone, at the close of the piece, in still less light, touching her mouth, rubbing her lower face. I am not sure what she is doing–but I know how it feels. I've felt like that, I feel like that. I recognize myself in this work, time and again. The feminine condition, sparely eludicated, complete yet incomplete. Another chapter, gleaned from notes—not written, but danced.

Volume 3, No. 12
March 21, 2005

copyright ©2005 Nancy Dalva


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