writers on dancing


The House of Ideas

House Special 2
ODC Theatre
August 30, 2003

reviewed by Rita Felciano

Somewhere in his writing T.S. Eliot talked about trying to make sense of poetic experience in terms of “hints” that are “only half understood”. It’s a reference that kept swirling around the edges of ODC’s “House Special 2”, (August 30), the program that culminated a two-week residency for choreographers Yannis Adoniou, Benjamin Levy and Erika Shuch. You walked away into a gray and foggy night, having witnessed projects that bubbled with the excitement of the last fortnight’s discoveries. Not that there were any masterpieces. But you had been in the presence of some kind of “poetic experience.” This was lucid and intelligent work by good artists who had been freed to roam in a supportive environment. None of the pieces were what you might called finished; they don’t even have names yet. But each work oozed with character. Shapes were fluid but they existed. Trajectories were non-linear but they had direction. “House Special 2” was full of fresh ideas, imaginatively realized with not a cliché on the horizon.

Adoniou based his performance installation on his and Evann Siebens’ dance film Image/Word.not_a_pipe in which the bowler-hatted dancer performs as a Magritte-like figure intruding into natural and urban landscapes. The film, shown in a loop to repeat, was projected in a roped off stage environment and could be viewed from either side of the screen. The audience was invited to walk around three sides of the performance arena and also watch a number of live dance actions some of whose imagery derived from Magritte. A woman circulated with a black umbrella. In one corner a line of men passed each other to a partner, never letting go of the apples in their mouths. Kneeling dancers on one side of the screen donned facial veils. Other connections were less obvious. On the far side, a lone woman, sometime joined by others, engaged a brick wall that was transformed into an astral highway by traveling light beams. Two women in front of microphones softly read from books, while a third one slowly tore one apart.

The result was a multi-focused, ever shifting work in which the viewer imposed his own perspective, lingering on one aspect of the live action by following, maybe a specific performer, focusing now on the film, now on the way dancers took over from each other. Performing so close to the audience, at times a bare foot away, the dancers invited intimacy and touching much as you might want to follow the contours of a piece of sculpture.

Maybe most fascinating was watching the way live performers on one side of the screen appeared as silhouetted images on the other. Their two-dimensionality seemed both delicate and strong, particularly if you were able to simultaneously catch parts of the live action reflected in the studio mirror.

Adoniou forwent narrative but his thematic concerns were clear. They are old ones: the relationship between words and objects, images and physical reality, the shift of time and space and the role of individual perspective. The piece did have some awkward moments when dancers were asked to do movments for which they were not sufficiently trained. But they were minor.

Levy’s wonderfully filmic piece was the most obviously dancerly of the evening. The five beautifully trained performers (Lily Dwyer, Cambria Garell, Christopher Hojin Lee, Lauren Slater and Patricia West) expanded and contracted their fluid connectiveness as if hooked up to a common lung. An organic sense for movement and intriguing use of slow motion created the common basis for the work’s individual parts.

In the first section, to be repeated in the end, the light went up on a clump of dancers with limbs stuck out like spikes from a seed pod. Propelled by a thrust of internal energy the configuration opened itself up to reveal individuals. One dancer was about to sprint away, another luxuriated in a deep back bend and yet another’s flip over a kneeling partner traced a glorious arc. In one of two duets, the dancers at first simply stood, exchanging heat through their hands until they broke apart only to almost meld into each other. The trio worked with the configuration’s inherent imbalance, setting up dancers against each other. But just before they hit the side wall, they stepped into a tiny but ever so important unison. In one of the most intriguing aspects of the piece, the trio returned later, but performed in the opposite direction, revealing, of course, a fresh perspective on known material. Matt Johnson’s live computer score was excellent, discrete but distinct.

The hilarity and good natured fun of Erika Shuch’s playfully meandering work served to highlight the fact that comedy is serious business. Some subjects are too serious, too painful or to fragile to deal with head on. Comedy offers a means to talk about them obliquely, to seduce the audience to your point of view with laughter.

And Shuch’s twelve performers proved to be wonderful conspirators, throwing themselves into their tasks with fearless gusto. They were supported by a funky rock band in sneakers and business suits. Singer Dwayne Calizo’s voice would rise into sopranic stratospheres and simply refuse to come down.

The piece consisted of a series of apparently unrelated scenes which created a patchwork that probably could be re-arranged and shaped into something else. The audience, however, seemed quite happy simply enjoying each section as it passed in front of them.

Most of the parts worked on their own, some quite well. An amusing and beautiful round dance, in which each performer had to sit down on a chair, look to the right and then re-join the circle, introduced the dancers as individuals and also focused on the great variety with which we approach ordinary tasks. A playful wrestling match between two women opened into boxing ring and competitive encounters between other dancers. Here winning was everything. The matches stayed on the light side but the longer this section went on, the greater the unease. A pompous parade in which a crowd mimicked the strutting leader’s movement was intercepted by a hilariously hysterical Larissa Verduzen. She screamed, flailed, cursed, threw a chair, but failed to grab the lead dancer’s attention until she had dragged him down to the floor with her. You couldn’t help but almost choke on own your laughter.

A couple of quasi canine duets for Kira Smith and Rowena Richie were the most self-contained. They also were the most clearly structured. The first one, a cleverly timed reluctant courtship evolved through, among others, Karaoke style imitations of Calizo’s singingg while trying to invade the partner’s body. In the second, a dancer “gave birth” to the other only to have the “baby” change her mind and trying to reverse the process. To see these two dancers in the end crawl away, swinging butt in the air, was deliciously simple physical comedy.

One scene with a quasi directorial figure, tape measure and various props in hand, who tried to control and shape theatrical gesture was too obvious. The overall work had a wonderfully light tone to it; this was too much heavy caricature.

The piece, and the evening, ended simply. A dancer walked over to a wash basin, cleansed her face and turned out the light.

copyright Rita Felciano 2003

Photo credits:
#1: Yannis Adoniou
#2: 3 Girls. Dancers: Lauren Slater, Lily Dwyer, Cambria Garell
Photo: Desdemona Chiang




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page last updated: July 19, 2003