Saturday, June 11, 2011

She moves in mysterious ways

It's the 25th Anniversary for Susan Marshall & Company, although this enterprise, with its androgynous, unassuming sensuousness and democratic playfulness, looks grounded in values reaching back an additional twenty years.

For this season, Marshall presents one suite of related, interconnected video/dance installations and one ensemble piece from repertory, each presentation set up in its own theater at Baryshnikov Arts Center--Frame Dances, from 2006 and 2008, in the Howard Gilman Performance Space, and Adamantine, debuted in 2009 but making its New York premiere, in the Jerome Robbins Theater.

Audiences can choose to take in Frame Dances at 7pm or wait until it repeats at 9:15 after Adamantine's 8pm showing. If you want to try for tickets for this evening, the final performance, I'd recommend seeing Frame Dances at 7. For the Marshall-initiated, this suite offers a snack box of delights--just enough for one night. For newcomers, it's an appetizer, introducing all things Marshall and her lovely and hardworking company. Adamantine's hour, unfortunately, mostly passes with heavy emphasis on sound and the weight of the world and time. It has pleasures in the dancing, but its artifice seems forced, even awkward at times.

Frame Dances plays out of multiple frames--a dancer-framing sandbox framed by metal mesh and more wood; a rectangle of Astroturf and other fake greenery topped with an open framework of wood like a bridge's arch; a cable and harness for aerial work, encased in transparent vinyl; the video projection frames that permit audience members to watch from seats or drift to wherever they can catch all the action; and even the Gilman space itself, with its small chunks of seating and its fluid space for movement. A more encompassing, philosophical frame might involve the juxtaposition of humans with the artificial (plastic, say, or mechanically-assisted flight) or things appropriated from nature (sand filling a box).

In each instance, the humans make the best of things. In Frame Dances, the video of Frame Dance (excerpted from the 2006 Cloudless--are you keeping up with me?), five dancers make like newborn puppies huddled in light sleep, limply splayed and continuously shifting positions around and over one another's bodies. (But look carefully and don't miss that coffee cup that somehow gets carefully passed from hand to hand!) Sandstone (2008), a live duet, shows Kristen Hollinsworth and Joseph Poulson making similar spooning, embracing moves in the sandbox, until Hollinsworth squats and, with unceremonious determination, begins to dig at the sand like a cat who has just finished doing her business. The Body of Water (2008) video frames Luke Miller and Darrin Michael Wright, both stripped down to white underwear, in a narrow pool of what appears to be milk. As they embrace and softly grapple, their bodies rotate in and out of this liquid, shapes forming and dissolving in and out of visibility as music throbs and loops. Green, Green Grass (2008) uses that fake grass and bridge arch as a passage way for slithering bodies, over and over again. (I wonder how that material feels on the skin.) Forward (2008) finds Poulson dangling and deftly twirling from an aerial harness as his enclosure fills with fog.

In each piece, Marshall plays with the orientation of the dancing body to horizontal ground and the way we, as onlookers, discover and perceive the body in space (say, from the overhead perspective of a video camera or from the outside of a plastic, mist-filled enclosure). To the extent that we, as flesh-and-blood beings, identify with these bodies and their sensations, we might also feel penned in or slippery or upended. Each short piece has its charm. Place them all together, though, and their magical effects magnify.

Dance performance in Adamantine--which had its premiere at Montclair, New Jersey's Alexander Kasser Theater--isn't so much framed as engulfed by lighting tics, movable mechanical set elements and an aggressive score that veers from folksy (and weirdly disruptive) to percussive (insistently so). I found the piece maze-like, with music as its Minotaur, and filled with dead ends and sometimes attractive filler. I wondered, too often, if some of its theatrics were meant to be cheesy or just happened to be. Here's one example: the slowly, grandly revolving curtain that individual dancers play around, surf or smack and kick and that sweeps over their fallen dancers bodies as the drumming's rhythm suggests the Inexorable March of Time. And another: A wind machine picturesquely--and repeatedly--blowing a dancer's long hair and sending aloft her little jacket made of lightweight plastic wrap.

In any case, I revere the Company in Susan Marshall & Company, and in Adamantine, you can keep an eye on poetry-in-motion Poulson--a guy who can turn even the simple extension of one hand into a smart and deeply spiritual event--and the similarly vibrant Wright.

Performances by Kristen Hollinsworth, Luke Miller, Joseph Poulson, Ildiko Toth, Petra van Noort and Darrin Michael Wright. Live music by Peter Whitehead, who composed the score for both works, and Elton Bradman.

Lighting: Mark Stanley
Sound: Jane Shaw
Set: Jeremy Lydic (original design for Frame Dances by Roderick Murray)
Video: Ryan Holsopple; Jeremy Lydic for Adamantine

Costume: Mary Kokie McNaughter (Frame Dances) and Olivera Gajic (Adamantine)

Click here for program and ticket information.

Baryshnikov Arts Center
450 West 37th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues), Manhattan

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