House of Ideas
August 30, 2003
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
copyright Rita Felciano 2003
3 Girls. Dancers: Lauren Slater, Lily Dwyer,
Photo: Desdemona Chiang