Thursday, December 11, 2008
When I first starting watching modern dance, about 15 years ago, probably the biggest challenge was overcoming my urge to narratize: "Oh, she's pirouetting ... that's means she's, um, confused about her relationship to the guy." After a while, you realize this viewing strategy is kind of dumb, and you look for other ways to appreciate the performance (beyond, of course, the sheer pleasure of watching highly trained bodies in precise and purposeful motion, which on a certain level isn't much different from grooving on a well-executed screen pass in football).
Dance Alloy Theater's recent show (Dec. 5-8) was unusual in that it offered a highly narrative performance along with a more typically expressionistic piece. New York-based choreographer Marina Harris's "Three Camilles" (a world premiere) retold the classic tragic love triangle in pretty linear fashion. The opening sequence, with one Camille (Adrienne Misko) draped in a cylinder of gossamer white fabric and contended for by her suitors (Christopher Bandy as the rich boy, Michael Walsh as the artist) was wonderfully sensual. There was also a good bit of humor -- at least early one -- as when the other two Camilles (Stephanie Dumaine and Maribeth Maxa) joined the first in using their hoop skirts as percussion instruments and mock weaponry. The 40-minute piece was satisfying in its own terms, but knowing where it would go narratively -- where it had to go --took some of the sense of discovery out of watching it.
But maybe that reaction only means I've grown conditioned to more nonlinear stuff like the second part of the program, "Schakt" (Swedish for "shaft"). The 1983 work is one of Alloy artistic and executive director Beth Corning's touchstones; she knew its choreographer, the late Per Jonsson, and the Alloy performed the piece previously during her tenure. (Corning, in fact, says her troupe is the only North American theater company with the rights to "Schakt," which was staged by Per Sacklén.)
It's a striking piece indeed, and literally: It opens with three dancers, each set in his or her own shaft of light, wielding a long-handled mallet to strike a huge, vertically suspended and artfully oxidized rectangle of steel sheeting. Accompanied by dire, bass-and-drone-heavy music, the dancers (Bandy, Maxa and Walsh) commence three parallel -- but often overlapping -- psychodramas of fear and trembling, their bodies evoking isolation, dread, debilitation. Aside from knowing it would have a beginning, middle and end, there was no telling where "Schakt" would go from moment to moment, and it was all the more potent for it.
Tags: Program Notes