Friday, October 12, 2012

Judson When?: Trajal Harrell at Danspace Project

Yeah, I love Bryan, too.

If I have to come home with an earworm, 
I want it to be this song. 
Every day and all days. 
So, thank you, Trajal Harrell.

So...on to Danspace Project's PLATFORM 2012: Judson Now:

Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (M2M)

This mouthful of a title--crafted by dancer-choreographer Trajal Harrell--tells me a few things: Harrell is a man with much on his mind, much of it overlapping, much that does not get thrown away. The Judson Church pioneers are in there, somewhere, and the theater of ancient Greece and the voguing balls and all of the variously-sized (XS, S, M, jr., L, XL) manifestations of his preoccupation with the concept of a collision between queer Harlem and the glory days of downtown postmodern dance. There's also an inclination to play with our heads: I'm going to tell you something or show you something "in all sincerity" and then I'm going to pull it out from under you. You know that thing that just happened? It wasn't what you thought it was. You know that thing I just said? Forget it.

This last trait is slightly annoying but has its place. Harrell seems, simultaneously, to want to seduce and to ward off intimacy. In hallowed St. Mark's Church, which already bears its own extensive arts history, he has overlapped ancient theater, Judson Memorial Church--home of early postmodern dance titans, and the ballrooms of Harlem. With this unlikely theatrical mélange for a moody setting, he performs the (forced) marriage of ironic distancing to emoting, virtuosity, passion and potential catharsis. 

He will just sit there, looking pained, along with dancer Thibault Lac, looking blank, while we simply listen to the entirety--the entirety!--of Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain." When was the last time that happened in a dance show? Audacious spliced with irritating (and I like Adele; I like Harrell, too).

It makes me think of my own youthful musical obsessions, not too far from this (and some of them I still claim) and how they fired creativity. And then I think I get a little more about Harrell.

It's all a bit much. Interjections of words--impassioned, yet kind of silly. Some dancing--ecstatic, yet trailing into the ordinary. The blues sitting there like the smug papa of all of the other music Harrell has gathered around it. Lengthy, lulling passages of things like Ondrej Vidlar intoning this command--"Don't stop"--stretching those words and playing with the inflection and tone (muttered, gentle, insistent, menacing) while a pained-looking Harrell sits and squirms. Harrell's unexpected, confident singing is too much--luscious and indulgent in equal measure. At times, he reminds me of Antony; at others, a holy-roller getting that (really, really) old-time religion.

I've grooved to Harrell's succulent dancing more in other works than here. In this piece, Thibault Lac, nearly walks off with everything. Though impossibly gawky in appearance, he transforms himself into a voguing superstar with slippery back, crazy legs, arms moving like whips, batons, propellers that blaze into near invisibility. (Don't think! WERK!!! WERK!!! Don't think!) Yes, please. More Lac.

The three men, draped in filmy, flowing black "vestments" (by Complexgeometries) could be ancient ritual celebrants or high-fashion models in little black frocks. These roles crash and clash. I'm waiting for these strutting priests/priestesses to "take us there"--to that place of catharsis--but it's not happening because the models, of course, are making us hold back and just look, sit back and just watch. more great earworm from Judson Church is Ringing. Love it.

Trajal Harrell at Danspace Project tonight and tomorrow, 8pm. Sold out, but there's a wait list. Click here for information.

Danspace Project
St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue), Manhattan

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