“Pig,” “Ligeti Essays,” “Time is the Echo of an Axe within a Wood”
Armitage Gone! Dance
Joyce Theater
New York, NY
February 6, 2007

by Leigh Witchel
copyright ©2007, Leigh Witchel

First drafts usually come in two flavors — too much and too little. Some artists begin with a bare skeleton; subsequent drafts are devoted to fleshing out the bones. Other artists put everything and the kitchen sink into the first draft; after deciding what the creature wants to become, they revise to pull out the extraneous material. Karole Armitage presented two main works at the Joyce Theater, one premiere and one revision of a work from 2004.  She overchoreographs, then pares down.

The new work, “Ligeti Essays” was a long, rambling but atmospheric piece danced on a
bare stage with a grey floor and black walls that later became dotted with stars. The design was by longtime collaborator David Salle and included an evocative metal tree at the back and Clifton Taylor’s badly behaved fluorescent lights at the perimeter that kept getting knocked over even when one of the dancers tried to right them. Costumes were clean and simple; the women wore what was practically a ballet uniform: flesh colored tights and black leotards cinched with belts, only with socks rather than pointe shoes. 

The work uses three song cycles and then two instrumental works. That’s a lot of Ligeti at a sitting. Armitage, who danced ballet in Geneva before joining Merce Cunningham’s company, uses the vocabulary of contemporary ballet. As with William Forsythe, there’s lots of distortion, torsion and recoil, but there’s also more intellectual detachment where some emotional involvement would be welcome. Despite a handsome moment when the dancers gathered in the star-lit darkness carrying lanterns, the piece never attained critical mass. One of the songs used was a sung version of a piano solo Wheeldon uses in his “Polyphonia” for the most haunting section. What he had for a moment — vulnerability and magic (and not least, Alexandra Ansanelli) gives a hint as to what’s missing here.

 “Time is the Echo of an Axe within a Wood,” made in 2004 and revised here, was originally an hour long and choreographed to music by several composers. Armitage took a section to Bartók and revised and expanded it. Though it’s built of much the same material as “Ligeti Essays,” solos, duets and some group sections, the dance is considerably more focused. Taylor and Salle also produced an enclosing décor here, with three sides of the stage curtained by chains of tiny metal balls that rippled alluringly when the dancers moved through or past them.Though I didn’t find it compelling, the structure and formality of “Time” kept it watchable; it had the doggedness of a running dream.

The dancers, all ballet trained, did not look their best in Armitage’s work, in some cases because one thought of other choreographers who have done related but more interesting pieces, in others because the work seemed to call for a line not all of them had.  “Ligeti Essays” would probably gain power with a second draft that edited and focused. Armitage tossed out an appetizer at the beginning of the program called “Pig.” Only a few minutes long, it was set for one dancer eight months pregnant and another inside an inflatable pig designed by Jeff Koons. The program listed eight dancers and a red tutu by Christian Lacroix, which were edited out before the premiere. It seems Armitage is a reviser by nature.

Top, Karole Armitage.
Middle and bottom: The company in "Ligetti Essays." Photos by Laurent Philippe.

Volume 5, No. 7
February 12, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Leigh Witchel

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