Friday, October 5, 2012

Just you and I, forever and a day: Rob List's "Play By Ear"

As the audience arrived, Rob List--slender, bearded, professorial-looking,  American ex-pat based in Amsterdam--stood quietly just inside the door to The Chocolate Factory's performance space in silent welcome. He was dressed more like some of us and could have been one of us, just in off the street. He did not look like a man set to perform something called Play By Ear for the next 70 minutes.

When we had settled in, he casually strolled over to say, "So, welcome. Thanks for coming...." I don't remember if he said anything more before dropping into a crouch and, with pieces of charcoal in each hand, drawing delicate black squiggles on the white floor. A shape--clearly, a head--emerged, and then shoulders, as he worked in near silence. The only sound came from the squeak of the charcoal and his shoes as he made way for the elegantly rendered, now tapering image. I was struck by List's gentleness and drawn in by his total concentration and the minimalist dance of hands and charcoal.

At last, he stood, gazed at his drawing and turned his back on it. The space has another doorway into what must be a small greenroom, and a woman appeared, flipping a switch to throw the space into darkness. A second later, the light came back on, and List crouched again, this time facing away from us. Although his body cast its own, natural shadow, the drawing looked like a constructed, static shadow as he made minor rearrangements in his crouch--shifting a knee, a foreleg; slightly wriggling his upperback--and let his fingers dip down or take brief "walks" along the floor, making a "shusshing" sound as they dragged. Poised over one flexed foot and one kneecap, his upperbody sloshing side to side, List seemed profoundly human and un-dancey, yet strangely mesmerizing. He brought us into each moment with him. I thought I heard a morsel of music in the air, coming from some far source, or perhaps I imagined it.

It was a long passage. By the time the audience got the sense of knowing that man's back quite well, List threw us a surprise box of loud, colorful weirdness by way of Tian Rotteveel (who dances and also designed the nightmarishly cinematic sound score) and the thoroughly engaging dancing of Constance Neuenschwander. What he didn't count on was an unexpected finale from a cricket who somehow--I feel, appropriately--found its way into the space.

Last week, Brian Rogers, The Chocolate Factory's artistic director, urged me to check out what List had to offer. In turn, I am urging you. I can't promise you a cricket, but you never know.

Rob List's Play By Ear continues tonight and tomorrow at 8pm. Information and tickets here and 212-352-3101.

The Chocolate Factory
5-49 49th Avenue, Long Island City, Queens

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