Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ahern's spook house

Halloween might be long gone, but Carrie Ahern and her fellow dancers are haunting the Brooklyn Lyceum this week. They're decidely flesh-and-blood creatures. But, if you go, you'll feel the hairs on your arms tingling, particularly if you spend any time in the small, upstairs room where powerful Donna Costello might thrash around like a maniac only a millimeter away from you. 

Sensate, running for three hours at every installation performance, offers each audience member his or her choice of arrival and departure time, viewing location and even intermission. (A restroom is conveniently located to the rear of the main space's primary seating area. Quietly slip back to your bench without fuss, and know that it's okay that you've missed what you've chosen to miss.) Ahern invites us to collaborate with her by creating our own experience of the work, going beyond her own efforts to shape its structure by willfully reorganizing her output.

From what I could tell, last night's small audience saw itself in a far more linear way. For instance, for long stretches of time, people sat in a conventional arrangement, facing the main space head-on. And Ahern's use of the Lyceum's features--including stairs to different levels--rarely went beyond expected functionality. It's certainly not the first time, we've seen dancers suddenly arrive or withdraw by taking the stairs.

A live, visually-innovative performance voice and electronic music by composer Anne Hege and eerie lighting by Jay Ryan contribute to the spooky, mysterious air. Costumer Naoko Nagata's raggedy layers make the dancers resemble survivors of some unnamed disaster. And the site itself, a former public bathhouse, is a potentially eccentric space for a show. But it needs more imaginative magic-making.

Ahern's choreography, however, and the Bacchante-like performances of her fellow dancers--Costello, David Figueroa, Kelly Hayes and Jillian Hollis--can often sizzle. The audience might evade Ahern's invitation to freedom, but her dancers do not. They take to this work with feverish abandon and put their bodies--maybe even their sanity--on the line.

You'll find the Brooklyn Lyceum (227 4th Avenue, Park Slope) right upstairs from the Union Street station on the R line. Remaining performances of Sensate run tonight (7:30-10:30pm) and tomorrow (3-6pm).

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