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Peter Boal and Company

'Herman Schmerman,' 'Mopey,' 'Variations, Op. 30,' 'Mesmerics'

Twelve Ton Rose

by S. E. Arnold

August 4, 2004 -- Jacob's Pillow, Massachusetts

During an interlude of silence in Marco Goecke’s piece, dancer Sean Suozzi’s crouching posture - a stretched, archaic pattern of legs flat beneath the twisted and shirtless upper body that turned the his  shoulders and gaze towards the audience - mimicked, one mused, the lurking Grendel’s black mood. And, if by chance this moment were a Kodak moment, one fancied that Grendel’s mother might affectionately label the snap shot, Mopey.

Given its somber lighting and its at once self-absorbed and self-flagellating movement, Goecke’s "Mopey "illustrates the misery of the godforsaken. Half naked, back typically to the audience, obsessive self-hugging, flailing chest-beating arms, face kneading fists, and ape-like movements suggest a malediction of extreme dejection. Silences, however, structurally tidy and unify the busy sufferings manifest in "Mopey" into a work with a beginning, middle, and end. And the musical links - a rousing piece for cello and orchestra by C. P. E. Bach and a corrosive piece of rock n’ roll by the fittingly named Cramps - that bridge the silent beginning to the silent middle and the middle to the silent and exhausted end, however, neither calm nor incite the self-destructive fury of "Mopey’s" savage beast. Save for its rhythms, in fact, the choreography ignored the music – a cheerless world indeed. And one that aptly ends in darkness. Still, silent, standing, and wearied (perhaps by the prophecy held within a returning one arm gesture –the arm Beowulf rips off) the character of Mopey looks into the offending light above him then nosily blows it out.

"Mopey," the one work in the program of four given by Peter Boal & Company at Jacob’s Pillow about or perhaps the only one with soul, followed "Herman Schmerman," choreographed by William Forsythe. Subtitled "pas de deux," and performed by Peter Boal and Wendy Whelan, the pedestrian and dismissive humor of Forsythe’s title meant, one thinks, to sweeten his soulless experiment in physics. Set to a score by Thom Willems, titled "Just Ducky," the hollowness generated by the sustained extremes of bass and treble pitches suggested neither justness nor duckiness but rather the vastness of space. And, the squips, pops, and stuttering rhythmic patterns that wended their way through various timbral treatments divided the musical space into layers; layers that glued the jointed-ness of the choreography together. Bent bodies, broken or flexed limbs, feet, and wrists, and limbs or head or body that circled around either an internal or external axis radiated clusters of independent rhythmic pulses out into the accommodating but indifferent space of music. The subdued and minimal partnering, including lifts plus the ‘feet firmly on the ground’ sense of balance, account for the pulsating rather than a streaming flow of movement, and hence the "Herman Schmerman" static quality.

Although very different in sound and look, "Variations, Opus 30," choreographed by Balanchine to the eponymous work by von Webern shares with "Herman Schmerman" highly polished moments or pulses generated from entwining lines. And as if to balance the music-movement relationship in Forsythe’s piece, in "Variations" it is the choreography rather than the music that glues the piece together. As there are more rests in Webern’s music than notes, that his compositions derive from the manipulation of tone-rows typically twisted beyond recognition, and that the sounds, orchestral in this case, of the moments can vary considerably in their timbral mix, the musical fabric of his works can feel frayed, ratty or moth-eaten even. Seeing Sean Suozzi, whether still, standing, and with arms and hands held in the mudra of the Golden God from "Bayadere" or performing Balanchine’s ‘jumping soccer kick’ provided "Variations," a solo originally meant for Paul Taylor and part of a larger work titled "Episodes," a discernable and welcome continuity.

Christopher Wheeldon’s "Mesmerics," set to music arranged or composed for string quartet by Philip Glass, aptly closed the evening by recapitulating noticeable features of its program mates. "Mesmerics," for example, shares "Mopey’s" cave-like atmosphere and "Herman Schmerman’s" focus on twisting, particularly the arm swing driven oscillations of the upper body. Wheeldon’s work opens in the dim light of a cloudy sunset as two figures, Peter Boal and Benjamin Millepied, sway in unison yet fixed in profile and in place. Additionally, silence as in "Mopey" structures "Mesmerics." Boal and Millepied, for instance, sway in silence until Wendy Whelan enters bearing music. The music she bears is a short cue for string quartet composed by Glass for the film, "Mishima."

The silence/music (always the same cue and dance phrase) sequence repeats three times; an added fourth silence, however, ends the first part, which instances, one thinks, the drowsiness implied by the title. Although the partnering (Millepied vanished) in this section recalls "Agon," the relationships between the three dancers particularly in the finale section were more architectural than human, a feature shared with "Herman Schmerman." And while all of the pieces on the program involved the drama of rolling or squatting on the floor and twisting and turning whether on the ground or in the air, "Mesmerics" was, like Webern’s music, a range of field stones gathered into a rows: texturally busy but more monumental than moving. And, the finale of "Mesmerics," set to an intense main title cue composed by Glass for the film, "Secret Agent," was perhaps the most stone cold and least moving of all.

Edited by Jeff.

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