Clouds and Riddles

“Love is a Battlefield”
Nancy Havlik's Dance Performance Group
Dance Place
Washington, D.C.
June 25, 2006

by Christopher Correa
copyright ©2006 by Christopher Correa

It was a dark and stormy night…

So begins Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s indelible first line in the novel Paul Clifford, widely known as the worst opener in the English language. It has also become known as the generic entrée into various adventure stories, horror serials, and an emporia of pulp fiction; Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys come to mind.

The weather on June 25 did set the mood for the evening, replete with snaps of lightning against a cloud-choked sky and rattling raindrops against the thin roof at Dance Place. But Ms. Drew, who was originally scheduled to make an appearance, was MIA, and a new mystery came into play: who now would solve the riddles of the ghostly, vaporous episodes set before us? The first order of sleuthing was why this particular event was given the name “Love is a Battlefield.” That question still remains unanswered, I’m afraid.

Enter one Jessica Morgan, a New York dancer and choreographer, enlisted at the last minute. And talk about a find. Her solo work, titled “Inhibitionist,” was the unquestionable high point of an otherwise murky hour or so of pieces that seemed broad but overdone.

Morgan’s contribution was a mighty one. Designed to be the dance equivalent of photographs that fill the pages of art house magazines like Paper or Flaunt, the imagery bordered on the absurd, although it remained sincere and “ugly” enough so as not to appear portentous for no good reason. She pulled at her leggings and top, forcing us to look uncomfortably at her: we felt like we were invading her privacy, and it was alternately unsettling and transfixing. She pounded the floor and hopped around, always ending up on her knees, faced away from the audience. Suggestions of self-flagellation and masturbation brought into focus the line between sexuality and sadism, between sexy and seedy, between art and gratuitousness.

The bulk of the performance was arranged by Nancy Havlik’s Dance Performance Group. Havlik is one of the most thoughtful dance curators in Washington, and her work always demonstrates great care and patience. But of the pieces on display this time around, most were cooked a little too much, for a little too long.

“You Burn Me” is based on the poesie of the ancient Greek lyricist Sappho, the writer Anne Carson’s book Sappho, and “Sappho of Lesbos,” by Arthur Weigall. It began with a set of dancers seated on stools, fidgeting with their footwear and whispering to one another. Those whispers became shout-outs to lesbianism, epic poems, and academic blather. The effect was of being talked at by a bloviating professor who barks studiously but passionlessly about her subject, into the cold void of a lecture hall. Even the final pas de deux, a tug-of-war between young women — one of whom sported a pair of masculine boots, the other tottery stilettos — lost visual impact, as it seemed to betray its theme eulogizing womanhood for a more androgynous fusion of the sexes.

Havlik provided the decidedly non-dancerly Chris Dohse with a lovely segment named “Lunacy.” Set to a hollow, echoing recording of Bobby Darin’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” the simple steps, paired with Robin Lyttle’s starry lighting, gave Dohse’s miming plaintive elegance. As dots of white circled the stage, he walked backward, to keep up with their trail. The suggestion was that he desperately wanted to reverse time or retrace his footsteps in order to achieve change. The simple beauty of it was heart-rending.

Dohse contributed a contrived little number called “rudder” that featured the dancer shedding several sets of pajamas, like skins, or layers of façades with which people face the world. Still, it was exceedingly cloying (and more than a little creepy), which made for an unnerving, ambivalent conclusion.

It was a dark and stormy night. And appropriately, much of what filled “Love is a Battlefield” was pulpy, purple and prosaic. But not everything that begins thusly gets tainted. Charles Schultz’s alter-ego, Snoopy, began each chapter of his never-ending-story with those seven wretched words. Come to think of it, Madeline L’Engle used them to christen her own story, A Wrinkle in Time. Nancy Havlik managed to conjure a squall of ideas for us to weather on our way out of the theatre, and with the aid of her eleventh-hour heroine, the mystery was less about whodunit, but who saved it. The answer: Jessica Morgan.

Volume 4, No. 26
July 10, 2006

copyright ©2006 Christopher Correa



©2006 DanceView