Saturday, March 26, 2011

John Scott's "Fall and Recover" at La MaMa

We don't imagine we are by ourselves. That is how the dance healed us. 
It allowed us to open ourselves and reach out for help.
--a cast member of John Scott's Fall and Recover

I'm just realizing now that John Scott's program notes list no credit for lighting design, which leads me to my only partly fanciful conclusion that Fall and Recover, the ensemble work he has finally been able to bring to La MaMa's stage, gets its splendid lights from the natural radiance of its cast of dancers. So let me begin with appreciation for the luminous contributions of Francis Acilu, Julie Chi, Philip Connaughton, Aisling Doyle, Faranak Mehdi Golhini, Solomon Ijigade, Sebastiao Mpembele Kamalandua, Kiribu, Patience Namehe, Nina, Elizabeth Su, Haile Tkabo and Mufutau Kehinde Yusuf (Junior).

With the exception of Connaughton and Doyle (longtime members of Scott's critically acclaimed Irish Modern Dance Theatre), these performers come to their work from disturbing backgrounds. Survivors of torture and wrenching loss in their homelands--Angola, Uganda, Eritrea and some pointedly unidentified countries, nine nations in all--they sought asylum in Ireland. As clients of Dublin's Centre for the Care of Survivors of Torture, they participated in Scott's movement workshops. Fall and Recover, with original music composed and performed live with sparkling wizardry by Rossa O'Snodaigh, eventually developed out of these sessions. Fall and Recover is an atypical and therefore heartening choice to be included in the New York offerings of Culture Ireland's US-wide Imagine Ireland fest.

This piece defies expectations, curving towards postmodernist abstract impression and suggestion, rather than literal declaration. In addition, the dancers underscore not past oppression and violence but resilient vitality, beauty and the humane exchange of support across differences of language and culture. Near the beginning, two women sit side by side as one calmly relates a story, possibly something of her experience, in an African language, periodically nodding and gesturing. Her silent companion--who is not African--nods when she does, careful to gesture in the same way as if to say, "You speak, but I might as well be speaking. We are very different but, nevertheless, we align."

While Scott's choreography pays detailed attention to individuality, at times highlighting the specific skills and contributions of each performer, it is the ensemble's moments of unity that most move me. One happens as members of the ensemble grasp hands and form a diagonal line, all of them speaking at once in their various tongues, as they advance, angle away or recede from us. The line looks massive, impenetrable; the force of the line also seems difficult, and one can imagine Scott being a bit overwhelmed by all of the assembled energy of a crowd of people with so much trauma that would not be, could not be, directly addressed. Scott reminds us of Doris Humprey's teaching that the moment between a fall and recovery--"the arc swept by a body moving between equilibrium and uncontrol"--contains power, contains the future.

Aside from gorgeous lighting and O'Snodaigh's imaginative variety of sounds, Fall and Recover benefits from an often fresh use of space and visual design. See this beautiful production at La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre through April 9, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:30pm. (tickets)

Audio file: Leonard Lopate interviews choreographer John Scott and performers Nina and Kiribu on WNYC (15:41)

Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa
66 East 4th Street (between Bowery and Second Avenue), Manhattan

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