"little virtue"
Glen Rumsey Dance Project
Danspace Project
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery
New York, NY
June 29, 2007

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2007 by Susan Reiter   

In the opening moments of Glen Rumsey's new "little virtue", shadowy figures teetered in high heels along the perimeter of the St. Mark’s sanctuary, illuminating their lower bodies with flashlights. In the near-darkness, as bird sounds and whistles were heard, one could make out the long tresses of their extravagantly tacky wigs as they made their way up to the altar at the far end of the space. Three pairs of legs, barefoot now and artfully highlighted by the flashlights, came downstage to flick and dart alluringly.

The space gradually opened up with light, revealing an ensemble of sullen androgynous beings in childlike puffy gray tunics cinched at the waist. Taunting and strutting, gesturing with mockingly naughty
hand gestures to a raucous song that frequently referred to “bush,” they were more desperate than glamorous, some struggling with wigs that slipped over part of their faces. It was certainly a tease to identify the boys from the girls, especially when everyone had such fabulous legs (there were, after all three former Merce Cunningham dancers amid the group).

Raquel Cion, a non-nonsense, earthy presence elaborately costumed to appear as part diva, part ancestress, planted herself downstage to read in her luxuriant, accented voice from a tiny book — a gently mocking text about social proprieties. The other eight performers, now liberated from the wigs, appeared in a delectable new set of costumes, sheer lampshade-like garments, white with intriguing black designs, over tight white bodysuits. Some sported pigtails — at first those seemed to identify the “girls” from the boys,” but then one realized the hairstyles (like everything else in the 50-minute piece) did not divide along clear gender lines. At least one of these adorable “girls” sported heavy tattoos on muscular arms.

While two played with pink patterned cloth dolls on the floor with childlike gawkiness, the others darted through kicky, vigorous phrases. Then Rumsey and Todd Williams took over the stage for a weirdly fascinating duet excerpted from “Exquisite Corpse,” which they first performed last year. Swathed from head to toe — in a manner both alluring and disturbing — in layers of filmy fabric, they evoked mummies, mannequins, the walking wounded. Spinning, leaping and dipping in an onrush of movement, they gradually shed most of their cocoon-like protective layers, growing increasingly desperate and driven. It was weird and hypnotic and oddly beautiful — and carried along by the Dresden Dolls, just one example of element of the work’s evocative, unpredictable sound collage.

As the duo made their exit, picking up their discarded schmattes, the others took over, now sporting bandage-like headgear and hospital gowns. One was carried in on a litter by two others, then several more stumbled their way in. Cion prowled upstage and around the perimeter intoning the “Theme from the Valley of the Dolls” which was then heard in Dionne Warwick’s onetime Top 40 hit rendition. Illuminated by the glow from four light boxes arrayed around the floor, the cluster of seeming casualties — victims of what deadly incident? — clutched at each other and stared out at us. Removing their gowns, they revealed ludicrously padded breasts and rumps.

In their final incarnation, these half-glamorous, half-pathetic creatures of Rumsey’s fantastical world wore lovely sheer brown shifts, each with their own appliquéd blue feather design, Cion introduced this final section (not a resolution, but more a melancholy way station — with a text that referred to “the taste for luxury” and the instruction to “be guided by your mirror,” then sang a sappy refrain: “don’t make me
over, now that I can’t make it without you.”

The dancing itself may at times have been secondary, but Rumsey’s overall compilation of elements was captivating — always slightly off-kilter and teasingly weird. His program credits far more than the usual number of collaborators for the visual elements (in addition to costume designer David Quinn, they include props and doll design, costume stitchers and costume dyeing, and a “fabric printing assistant”), indicating how many creative hands pitched in to give “little virtue” its distinctive look. Lighting designer Carol Mullins also made an important contribution, illuminating different portions of the majestic St. Mark’s space in unexpected ways.

And then there were the dancers – forceful, individual presences all, each finding their own idiosyncratic spin on the material and adding to the quirky and intriguing overall impression. Rumsey’s fellow Cunningham alumni — the luminous, gorgeously serene Jean Freebury and the always fascinating, slightly mournful Banu Ogan — stood out, but they were well matched by A. Apostol, Eric Bounds, Makram Hamdan, and Katherine Nauman, as well as Rumsey and the dynamic Williams.

Photos by London Teeling.

Volume 5, No. 27
July 9, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Susan Reiter

©2003-2007 DanceView