Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rosner at Joyce SoHo: Yay, oh!

With the world premiere of 90 ways to Wake from drowning, Sarah A.O. Rosner and her ensemble, The A.O. Movement Collective, have taken an important, assertive step into the spotlight of contemporary dance. After two years of developing 90 ways--their first evening-length work and first New York season--these performers show a remarkable cohesion and intensity that other troupes might take a decade or more to achieve. Rosner and her young colleagues are ready to rock.

90 ways to Wake from drowning emerges out of the shambles of the past--a messy performance space strewn with analog tvs, cassettes and VHSes, some with tape unspooled, an ancient projector and wadded-up plastic bags. Dancers mill about, alluding to some never-identified incident that sounds dire and final. Now and again, bodies appear on the floor. Television screens run scenes of cars crashing, cars on fire. One section's soundscore might trigger terrible memories of the roar of low-flying planes on 9/11. Rosner, who is also a filmmaker, utilizes drastic, cinematic splicing effects to make visible and audible those nightmarish things stuck in a looping pattern in the head.

"I just need to see it again," says dancer Ilona Bito about something never defined. She's quickly told, "You can't. It. Doesn't. Exist. Anymore."

What disaster has happened here? Might as well supply your own. You might think, too, about the tension between the immediacy and corporeality of dance and the fact that, usually, when it's done, it's gone, a memory. Rosner, a dedicated documenter of process, must wrestle with this issue of dance, here and gone, as we usually think of this art.

Rosner's brutal focus on relationships and emotions might seem retro, but there's nothing clichéd or formulaic about how she handles these things in her theater. Among the many, many elements to admire here is a male-female duet in which the heaviness of the dancers' bodies and the seriousness of their interactions are, very strangely, manipulated by the airy lightness of the crumpled plastic bag that they toss, whirl and reach to grab. Rosner makes you look at a wafting plastic grocery bag that you might swerve to avoid on a windy street, and suddenly see a batch of things that this stupid object could be or mean.

She also handles space with gutsy imagination. For example, I enjoyed her vertical line of four dancers from nearest to farthest from the audience, each with his or her assignment to be still, slow, active or variable (from still-to-active in relation to dancer #3).

I also marveled at the outright, raw ferocity of her dancers. At first, I was thinking it was only the men--Cory Antiel, Jon Cooper and Rowan Magee--and I wanted more edginess from the women. But forget that. The women-- Bito along with Lillie DeArmonCristina Jasen and Larissa Sheldon--turn out to be plenty edgy, like a python wrapping itself around your neck and torso. The entire company keeps the audience on edge at all time.

"I just need to see it again."

Yeah, I could see this one again. And whatever's next in Rosner's plans. The only question, now, is whether to take anxiety meds before or after.

Keep an eye on this choreographer and this collective.

The A.O. Movement Collective completes its run with a show tonight at Joyce SoHo (8pm). See a video clip from the show and get tickets here.

Joyce SoHo
155 Mercer Street (between Houston and Prince Streets), Manhattan

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