writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

An Unanswered Question

Time is the Echo of an Axe Within a Wood
Armitage Gone! Dance
Karole Armitage
The Joyce Theater
New York, NY
March 2-7, 2004

by Meital Waibsnaider
copyright © 2004 by Meital Waibsnaider

With the recent discovery that water once flowed on Mars, there is something about red stars these days that evoke thoughts of life in other places. When the luminescent strings of light that framed the stage of Karole Armitage’s Time is the Echo of an Axe Within a Wood glowed like red stars midway through and occasionally until the end of the piece, I could not help but imagine the dancers as long-lost intergalactic neighbors.

The most striking element, after the red stars and the over-the-top, otherworldly music by four different composers, was the beautifully trained, and toned, dancers. Were it not for their virtuosic technique and flattering costumes by Peter Speliopoulous and Deanna Berg, there would have been little glue to hold the work together.

Clothed in copper-, platinum- and golden-hued tank leotards and bodysuits, the twelve dancers, including three Voguers and one Indian dancer, flawlessly executed the steps at hand. The eight modern- and ballet-trained dancers leapt, kicked, partnered and pointed their feet impressively. They branded their pyrotechnical display with a surprising depth and commitment, which speaks exceptionally well of Armitage’s power to motivate. But, every dynamic grouping—be it solo, duet, trio or quartet—left me wanting so much more than just beauty.

At one point in the work, five dancers stood in parallel with their backs to the audience, holding hands and snaking across the stage like a Chinese dragon. This simple, but engaging, image solidified the fantastic energy of group moments that best captured the spirit of the dynamic performers. Moments later, however, two groups of three seemed to challenge each other in dueling saut-de-basques cross the stage, only further confusing the flow of the work. The most textbook classical of classical jumps, saut-de-basques, especially performed in two unison lines, do little to advance the action of any work.

Shortly after the arrival of the red starry dots, the Voguers and Indian dancer appeared on the stage. Improvising their way through fast-as-rabbit arm movements and occasional contortions that included forearm and handstands, the four dancers had little interaction with the other eight. Sure, they crossed paths with some of the non-improvising dancers, but for the most part appeared to provide a well-deserved rest to their fellow performers.

Armitage’s work borrowed its title from the last two lines of a poem by Philip Larkinthat reads “This is the first thing /I have understood:/Time is the echo of an axe/Within a wood.” These words speak of a lengthy search for meaning, which is finally discovered in an earthly, daily task. Now in her 25th anniversary season, Karole Armitage proved that she knows how to challenge brilliant dancers with tricky choreography, and collaborate with designers who will make them appear like perfect beings in an energetic, metallic world. But other than throwing in four interesting and talented improvisers for the sake of novelty and diversity, Time is the Echo of an Axe Within a Wood left so much of the search for meaning unanswered.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 10
March 7, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Meital Waibsnaider



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on January 11, 2004