Saturday, June 18, 2011

A pretty big "IF"

Heidi Latsky (of Heidi Latsky Dance) took a frisky turn in her career several years ago when she started exploring the interesting movement possibilities and specific virtuosities of performers who have disabilities. Originally, her GIMP PROJECT spotlit the skills and charisma of these performers--most memorably, Lisa Bufano and Lawrence Carter-Long--partly because of its episodic nature, the result of rehearsal scheduling complexities. Her new hour-long work, The GIMP Project: IF, moves into more ambitious--and, in a way, ambiguous--territory. It largely pulls away from what, even though not consciously intended, became star-making machinery to attempt a larger, more communal point of view with nearly two dozen performers of varying races, ages, body sizes, physical abilities and disabilities, and experience with dance. You can see it this afternoon and evening in its last showings at La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival (details below).

IF answers the question I had in my head when I set out to see this show: Where can Latsky go next? Answers it truly, if not with complete satisfaction. Although much of IF derives from improvisation--something new for Latsky--it still feels tightly restrictive, mysterious, too, since it's hard to get a clear sense of what's being held in.

The first section opens with a brief guest performance by La MaMa honoree Joan Finkelstein, stretchy and half-lit atop a recessed, elevated section of the stage. It also employs the theater's side balconies--although not particularly effectively--with Latsky slowly revolving, dipping and lifting her upper body while, across the room, Jeffrey Freeze first holds a pose in near darkness then moves behind his railing. Suleiman Rifai--dancer, psychotherapist and marathon runner who is blind--introduces the first real visual design interest as his long, lean body casts stark, precise shapes against a wooden barrier that marks the rear of the performance space. Latsky will eventually join him there, both of them splaying across the wall and sometimes overlapping, and Freeze will also descend from his balcony.

Music: moody sonic wallpaper, repetitive and mournful or chime-y and looping--think Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells," but less aggressive and, well, demonic--and later the raspy amplification of someone breathing and breathing and breathing and breathing and.... Movements: frequently sinking low to the ground and hanging out there or turning away towards that high wall under tamped-down lighting. Overall feeling: depressive, perhaps intentionally. Watching something simply feeding upon itself is enervating, and Latsky's movement ideas are not yet resonant enough in themselves.

The second phase of IF starts as Julia Hahn-Gallego, expressionless in face and body, rollerblades around the space while other dancers carry chairs to their places, the legs scraping out a hive-like buzz. Her husband, George Gallego--survivor of a spinal cord injury and founder of Wheels of Progress--will later weave, swirl and do wheelies amid the more regulated rows of seated dancers. The patterns of those rows, and the movements, may open out as the section continues, but the choreography here seems not only dry and restrained but severely dialed down to make individuality--including the specificity of  disabilities, where they exist--something that you will have to catch by really looking for it. Not a bad thing in itself, but just saying. This flag might have stars, but they're as regular as the ones on Old Glory.

Jennifer Bricker, who was born without legs, and her aerial partner Nate Crawford are well known to fans of GIMP PROJECT for their romantic work aloft, suspended by crimson ribbons of silk. They contribute the longish but affecting third phase that concludes IF, its only underscored spectacle. The technical and physical control they need to do what they do injects something less than carefree about this performance, making the inevitable kiss just that--inevitable and suspected, not a lovely surprise.

Friday's audience received this duet, and the overall evening, with big cheers. The Q&A session also showed, once again, that audiences have taken Latsky and her dancers to their hearts. The work already reaches them directly. For that reason, Latsky's investigation has scored a success. But, more important for its aspirations as art, she continues to ask questions, learn from it and grow it. There's really no telling where it can take her next.

Other performers: Idil Bray, Stephanie Busia, Meredith Fages, Kevin Fay, Ambar Gonzalez, David Harrell, Terrence Hewitt, Jillian Leigh Hollis, Elfie Knecht, Claude Louissaint, Eve Packer, Jenny Rocha, Robert Simpson and Thomas Vallette

The GIMP Project: IF at La MaMa today, 2:30pm and 7:30pm

Tickets

La MaMa (Ellen Stewart Theatre)
66 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue), Manhattan
(directions)

2 comments:

Maybelle said...

I had the chance to see the Saturday evening performance of "If" at La MaMa and was very impressed with the show. It is, indeed an ambitious piece, and I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of Latsky’s investigation. I, too, was moved by the extent to which Latsky’s artistic aspirations push both her dancers and her audience to ask questions, and to learn and grow from the exploration. She truly has, as you say, “scored a success.”

I differ with you, though, in my experience of the second phase of the performance. From my point of view, the communal point view of the work demands that we move past the specificity of abilities and disabilities to see the larger perspective. To me, what you describe as “dry and restrained,” was actually a remarkably effective expression of the isolation and containment of each individual’s story within the sometimes regulated (patterned), sometimes chaotic universe in which we all live. Here is a world in which we cannot hope to attend to the details of each movement, and yet, for each individual, or within each dyad, the details are the existential essence of reality – the life-breath conveyed by the respirations of the soundtrack.

I, for one, can’t wait to see where “If” will take Latsky next. If Saturday evening’s performance was any indication, it will surely be evocative, expressive, and moving.

Eva YaaAsantewaa said...

Hi, Maybelle!

Thanks so much for your interesting comment. You wrote:

"To me, what you describe as 'dry and restrained,' was actually a remarkably effective expression of the isolation and containment of each individual’s story within the sometimes regulated (patterned), sometimes chaotic universe in which we all live."

I can see how that view of the section could work (and possibly illuminate the entire dance). Thank you for articulating it for our consideration!

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