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 Post subject: Alison Chase/Performance
PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2015 7:58 pm 
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Posts: 434
Location: New Jersey
Alison Chase/Performance
Columbia University – Miller Theater
New York, New York

January 10, 2015
“Drowned,” “Red Sunset,” “Devil Got My Woman,” “Tsu-Ku-Tsu”

-- by Jerry Hochman

Alison Chase is one of the co-founders of Pilobulus and Momix, and she’s regarded by many as a dance/theater icon. That says a lot about the choreography on view last weekend performed by her company, Alison Chase/Performance, at Columbia University’s Miller Theater – but it also doesn’t say nearly enough. Although much of the program of dances displayed similarities to Pilobulus (and included a Pilobolus piece that Ms. Chase choreographed), the company has its own style, and Ms. Chase continues to push boundaries.

The most ambitious of the four pieces was “Drowned,” choreographed – as all the dances were – by Ms. Chase with input from current and former dancers. It’s a magical visual feast of projected images and superbly performed ‘live’ dance that is haunting, inventive, and at times extraordinarily beautiful. That it ultimately doesn’t work as more than a remarkable visual presentation may have been a product of the story, which is told in unmistakable terms and in an interesting and inventive way, but which lacks the depth and power of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,” on which the narrative of this dance is purportedly based, and has no significance beyond being a vehicle for Ms. Chase and her collaborators’ magic.

“Drowned” has a simple narrative. It was a dark and stormy night, and a tempest assaults the sea. A man drowns during the storm, and his body is washed ashore. Soon he’s found by a primitive tribe of six dancers. The three men are hostile and aggressive, and regard the body as invasive and a harbinger of evil. The three women see the body as, perhaps, the first decent man they’ve ever met, and are curious and affectionate. There are various interactions between the corpse and the tribespersons. Then the body floats back out to sea, or was never on land in the first place (perhaps the encounter was a drowning man’s dream). The end.

The piece’s reason for being is less to tell the story itself (which is similar to the Garcia Marquez story, but necessarily differs from it in many ways and, in any event, stands on its own) than to display the visual and kinetic inventiveness that the audience views as the story unfolds. “Drowned” opens to an upstage screen upon which videos and photographs depicting the storm, the drowned body, calming water, and later the island landscape are projected. (Videography and photography by Associate Directors Derek Dudek and Sean Kernan, respectively; programming by Abby Stiers.) The projections themselves are a combination of photographed images that move within the video, and video segments that suddenly stop or merge into different video segments, all of which vividly set the physical scene and capture the story’s essential punctuation points, which include a frightening electrical storm (a different storm) and dream-like encounters between the individual women and the drowned man.

Particularly effective is Ms. Chase’s utilization of two devices that give the piece added texture and an aura of mystery – a translucent scrim which functions as an intermediate visual layer of action, if it were a cloud or haze, into which the performers appear as if sprung from the screen behind them and from which they at times emerge into the stage ‘clearing’; and a cloth ‘sheet’ (maybe a remnant of a ship’s sail, as in the Garcia Marquez story) that is at once a wrapping for the corpse, a stage divider of sorts, and an additional screen behind which people, the corpse, or an imagined monster are hidden, within which things happen, and from which the characters at times emerge. As a result, “Drowned” frequently brings to mind a museum-like diorama, but one which is in motion and is populated with live (and one dead) characters. Add to these ingredients the original programmatic score by Grammy Award winning composer Paul Sullivan into which the stage action fits like a glove, the muted but primitively colorful costumes designed by Angelina Avallone, and Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting that brings it all together, and you have a powerful creative framework into which Ms. Chase (who is also the piece’s Director) and her choreographic collaborators weave live movement images that can be violent as the savage men battle over the corpse and attempt to capture or neutralize it; or rhapsodically beautiful as the docile women interact with the corpse – live or on screen.

The dancers (Jessica Bendig, Mark Fucik, Mistral Hay, Jenna Liberati, Kenneth Neil, and Shane Rutkowski), and even the drowned man (Beau Dobson), are bodies to be manipulated, but they also have personality traits, primitive and animalistic and ritualistic though they may be, which the choreography creates and exploits, and through which the narrative flows. For example, Mr. Fucik’s character is a lion of a man and an alpha-male wannabe who reacts viscerally and more aggressively than the others, while Mr. Rutkowski’s primitive man is a crouching tiger who tries to think things through before taking control. On the other hand, the women treat the body reverentially as well as affectionately, in poses that appeared at times to resemble Michelangelo’s Pieta. And although the piece includes bodies balancing bodies (mostly when the corpse is balanced against and manipulated by the individual dancers, or when the one male - Mr. Rutkowski - climbs atop the others as if standing on a promontory with a commanding view of the beach), the bulk of the movement is more than a collection of semi-static poses. Ms. Chase utilizes practically every inch of stage space, and focuses back and forth from the men to the women as if they were the subjects of different but interrelated paragraphs.

But the narrative context is not insignificant here, and without the emotional resonance and cosmic qualities imbued in the wonderful Garcia Marquez short story, the narrative is simplistic and of no significance, and memories of “Drowned” float away as the drowned man returns to his watery grave. What’s left is just a strange story that’s a vehicle for some fabulous stagecraft.

More successful, although less ambitious, were the other pieces on the program.

“Red Weather,” which had its New York premiere the previous evening, is a dance that explores relationships, fractured though these relationships may choreographically be. There’s nothing new about that – but the interactions are displayed as bodies manipulating and balancing against bodies in strange and interesting and entertaining ways – male/female pairs (one pair appear to be boxing with each other), a male/male pair, and groups. I particularly liked one sequence in which the men lifted and manipulated one woman as if she were a goddess.

But what’s really different here, at least to me, is the interplay between the movement of dancers and the musical accompaniment, created and performed by Rob Flax. Mr. Flax stands downstage right, playing the violin accompaniment. Suddenly, in mid duet, the violin music is joined by eerie sounds, which the dancers’ movements at times mimic. These sounds are not unpleasant to hear (they’re not, for example, the sounds of bodily functions) – they’re just…strange sounding. And they provide “Red Weather” with a distinctive aural framework that is as stimulating as the movement quality of the choreography and the flawless execution by Ms. Bendig, Mr. Fucik, Ms. Hay, Ms. Liberati, Mr. Neil, and Mr. Rutkowski.

Also given its New York premiere was “Devil Got My Woman,” a 2008 company piece that is as hilarious, in a muted sort of way, as it is athletically complex. The piece describes a woman courted by three men, who ultimately selects one to cohabit with – the habitation being a contraption that looks like monkey bars in the shape of a house, with the bars colored orange (orange being the new black), through which Ms. Bendig and Mr. Rutkowski. Unknowingly, Mr. Rutkowski’s character drew the short straw – he’s the chosen victim. It’s deliciously wicked to watch evolve.

The evening concluded with a brilliant performance of a Pilobulus classic: “Tsu-Ku-Tsu.” As should be obvious from the title, the piece has an Asian sensibility, augmented by the music and the robes worn (at first) by the dancers (the musical accompaniment was created by Leonard Eto, and the superb costumes were designed by Ms. Avallone). Here again there is a ritualized exploration of relationships, but the piece is much more than a Bugaku adapted for body manipulation and balance/counterbalance. Among other physically complex and hauntingly beautiful images, that of the women being carted across the stage on the men’s backs, ultimately rising to stand on their shoulders as if they were heavenly warrior angels, is particularly striking.

While not completely successful, this program succeeds in doing what Ms. Chase sets out to do - to push boundaries of dance and imagination. The next time the company returns to this area, the opportunity to see the product of Ms. Chase and her collaborators should not be missed.


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 Post subject: Re: Alison Chase/Performance
PostPosted: Mon Jan 18, 2016 1:34 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jun 30, 2004 11:01 pm
Posts: 434
Location: New Jersey
Alison Chase/Performance
Five Angels Theater
New York, New York

January 15, 2016
In the Forest of the Night, Tracings, Red Weather,
Monkey and the White Bone Demon, and three “Pregnant Pauses”

-- by Jerry Hochman

For its second New York season in as many years, this time at the relatively new and attractively-designed Five Angels Theater in Hell’s Kitchen, Alison Chase/Performance presented two world premieres and two established favorites, as well as three solo intermezzos.

One of the co-founders of Pilobolus, Chase has been celebrated for the choreographic innovation evident in her body of work, and for pushing dance boundaries. That description is unnecessarily limiting – her choreography, not just for balance-shifting groupings and athleticism, but for intricate and inventive partnering, is top notch, and was on vivid display throughout this year’s program. But the new dances this season are extended snapshots in time that are fine for what they are, but lacked the depth and drama of last year’s world premiere, Drowned. Of the two, In the Forest of the Night is more ambitious, but Tracings Is a stronger piece.

Loosely based on a gem of a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Drowned, though not entirely successful, was intriguing dance theater. In the Forest of the Night, which had its world premiere Thursday evening, may have been similarly inspired by a work of literature: William Blake’s famous poem The Tyger (“Tyger Tyger burning bright,/in the forests of the night,/What immortal hand or eye,/Could frame they fearful symmetry?.....”). But if that’s the case, In the Forest of the Night doesn’t replicate the poem’s awesome power. Chase and her dancers (the choreography for all the pieces on the program is attributed to Chase in collaboration with current and former dancers) here focus on atmosphere rather than substance. Well-crafted and performed as it is, it comes across as a relatively lightweight slice of forest life.

The dance begins, appropriately, in darkness. The dancers position themselves resting (or asleep) on the stage floor, essentially in separate left and right groupings. Soon one slides a ‘ball of light’ (a small hand-held light source) across the stage floor to another on the opposite side, in the process softly illuminating a small part of the stage and functioning as a first ray of penetrating daylight. Other forest denizens subsequently pass their own light sources across the stage to those on the other side. It’s a nifty piece of stagecraft, not entirely original, but in this case effectively used.

Accompanied by eerie sound (the musical accompaniment was created by Franz Nicolay), the dancers eventually pair up, roll around, stretch, crawl, and at times pull others across the stage floor, until all the beings are ‘awake’. They form hollow ‘logs’ though which some crawl, or an ersatz tree limb upon which others climb. Eventually, the dancers plant their light sources on stationary ‘holders’ positioned at the front of the stage floor, illuminating the forest (the theater’s ‘black box’ stage floor – there is no set) in a brighter but still muted ‘daylight’. The forest occupants frolic with each other (a trio of men playfully passes the ‘middleman’ from one to the other; one dancer hoists and swings another), and Chase’s choreography for the dancer pairs, possibly intended as a generalized reference to sexual activity, is vibrantly presented. This is what these creatures do. Jessica Bendig, Mistral Hay, Oceane Hooks-Camilleri, Beau Dobson, Mark Fucik, Kenneth Higginbotham and Shane Rutkowski comprised the forest community.

To her credit, Chase does not have her dancers simply imitate animal movement: they populate the forest and move as they do because that’s the way they are, not because they represent particular animals (or primitive humans). But aside from reasonably interesting movement quality from moment to moment, and the visualization of a ‘forest community’ of sorts, nothing much happens here. One keeps hoping for some defining moment: maybe a predator to shake things up. One male dancer does emerge from the forest depths (the wings) swirling around with more force than the others and interrupts the forest reverie with some level of menace, but it’s just another development in the circle of forest life. In fairness, nothing in the program (other than the piece’s title) indicates that In the Forest of the Night was inspired by the Blake poem, and this slice of forest life may have been intended to be no more powerful, and no more awesome, than a glade filled with squirrels, monkeys, primitive natives, or imaginary critters, but It could use a tiger or two to liven things up.

Tracings is similarly rooted in an exploration of animal movement – in this case, what appear to be birds. Accompanied by avian sounds, one dancer, Bendig, wearing an off-white, skin-tight unitard with a cluster of flower petals circling her upper body (the costumes were designed by Grier Coleman), moves languidly and sensuously among the three men (Dobson, Higginbotham, and Matt Walfish), who are bare-chested and wear tight-fitting briefs. She’s a dominant force of nature, a siren – the males may manipulate her physically as the dance progresses, but she’s in control, until she no longer cares to be. A role-reversed L’Apres Midi d’une Faune, perhaps, but without that iconic dance’s romance and drama. Nevertheless, this piece is focused and makes a statement, and Bendig’s performance was particularly compelling.

These dances, as well as the other two on the program, were separated by what were called “Pregnant Pauses.” But unlike other such pauses in multiple piece programs, these were not periods of dimmed lighting until the dancers change costume and return for the next dance – they were curious and somewhat refreshing mini performances of their own. In each, a female performer (Jenna Sherman) dressed somewhat bird-like (vaguely like a rooster crossed with a pregnant ostrich) meandered stage left to stage right accompanied by, and moving in response to, a recorded description of certain rare birds (a different recording, and slightly different performance, for each 'pause'). There is no credit for the vocal recording, choreography or costume, but Sherman’s appearances were greeted with appropriate laughter and considerable applause. However, entertaining though they were, these mini-dances somewhat undercut the seriousness of Chase’s new pieces – which possibly was the point.

After a repeat performance of Red Weather, which had its New York premiere as part of last year’s program (but which suffered from the absence of live musical accompaniment at this performance), the program concluded with a Chase-choreographed Pilobolus classic, Monkey and the White Bone Demon, a vaguely Asian-themed piece that tells of a monkey who repeatedly tries to vanquish a seemingly invincible demon, assisted by three wanderers who are both potential victims and human/simian co-conspirators. Led by Rutkowski (the Monkey, armed with a decorated shower curtain rod), and Fucik (the Demon, a diabolical wizard/zealot of sorts), the piece is both brilliantly crafted, outrageous, and hilarious, a spoof that’s considerably more entertaining than the description might lead one to believe. And Fucik, the company’s Associate Artistic Director, did an extraordinary job moving up and down and around the stage on silver stilts. The dancers, who also included Bendig, Dobson and Walfish, killed it.


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