Friday, October 3, 2014

Danspace Project presents new work by Jillian Peña

From Jillian Peña's Polly Pocket: Expansion Pack
(photo: Ian Douglas)

Let's just say that with Jillian Peña you know where you stand--or sit, actually.


Funny. I was just thinking--yesterday, before I went to see Peña's latest work, Polly Pocket: Expansion Pack--about the many ways that artists have arranged audience seating at Danspace Project. Last night, I walked through the inner doors of St. Mark's Church to find a thick barrier erected between the performance space and the seats. About 2-1/2 feet in height and 2 feet in depth, stretching from one margin of the performing area to the other and carefully covered in white fabric.

Two Peña dancers, Alexandra Albrecht and Andrew Champlin, were already at work in one corner of the space, visible but cut off from us by the barrier. (We're over here. You're over there. That's the way it's going to be.) Which led me to wonder if, in some unanticipated way, Peña would eventually breach that barrier. Or perhaps she really means to freeze us in place and role in a polite and tasteful but firm way.

White sheets hung between the columns that flank the space, obscuring the seating risers along those sides. Lighting was basic and gentle. This made the interior space look like what it is to the historic church that houses it--a sanctuary, sacred and protected space. Or perhaps a hospital room.

The audience gathered and gradually grew still. The chiming, droning undertone strengthened. The partners--different in sex but similar in height and physique--continued their calm, repetitive patterns. Facing each other, the dancers would touch their four palms together, moving them in slow, drifting extensions or curves or crosses as if engaging with a mirror image of themselves. Or they might turn away from each other, facing the open space and hooking an arm around the other's waist, each tracing a rond de jambe à terre. Two halves of a whole, it would seem. Sometimes, they would separate enough to be seen as distinct entities--but not so far as to lose one another--then move back in for more rounds of the repeated motions.

Not limited to pristine movement patterns in her intense focus here, Peña eventually--and, I think, inevitably--introduced audible counting. The first instance of this occured with a shift in the music and expansion in movement--legs lifting, arms stretching outward, directional changes, slow tumbles and more mirroring of the Other. Eventually, a third Other--dancer Kyli Kleven--joined the first two.

Although not deeply engaged by Polly Pocket: Expansion Pack, I enjoyed its overall look and the quality of its trio of performers, all evenhanded, airy and luminous. The movement and soundscape were a little too lulling for me, but I admit to being under-slept and in need of something more jolting. The "expansion" referenced in the title--charming, though even more lulling in its way--is meant as a surprise. So, I will refrain from revealing it here.

Set and Video: Jillian Peña and Chris Sellers
Music: Krzysztof Komeda, The Valerie Project, Fripp & Eno
Lighting: Kathy Kaufmann (original lighting by Joe Levasseur)
Costume Design: Reid Bartelme (costumes created by Bartelme with Stephanie Yarger and Jillian Maslow)

Polly Pocket: Expansion Pack runs through Saturday, 8pm. No late seating. For tickets, click here.

Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue), Manhattan

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