Saturday, March 16, 2013

Love brings surprises: "The White Piece" by John Scott Dance at La MaMa

Members of John Scott Dance in The White Piece (Photos by Chris Nash)
top photo: Philip Connaughton and Rebecca Reilly; bottom photo: John Scott and Haile Takabo
Dancer-choreographer John Scott--who has offered dance workshops for Dublin's Centre for Care for Survivors of Torture and also dealt with his performers' knotty, desperate immigration asylum cases--does not make art that speaks directly to the pain he has witnessed and internalized. With a field of trained dancers as well as survivors of injustice whose bodies carry concealed stories, he makes bighearted, absurd rituals of healing. The White Piece--its title referencing the symbolic color of purification, sanctity and, for some cultures, mourning--is one such work. Presented at La MaMa now through March 24, in association with the Irish Arts Center, The White Piece can have a curious effect on audiences, daring to be deceptively uncool in its methods and borderline corny in its optimistic appeal to humanity.

Before the audience can even settle in, Scott subjects everyone to a cacophony of voices as thirteen racially- and culturally-diverse performers mill about and speak, each man or woman on his or her own trajectory or sometimes pairing off to trail and mirror a momentary partner. I would imagine those voices and bodies represent the situation Scott found himself in with so many people--from Eastern Europe, from African nations--and so many troubling histories thrown his way. But pretty soon the mess shifts to a follow-the-leader game of word-and-movement phrases, and the talk is all about love. "Love is a piece of paper written but left unread," one dancer says, tossing a sheet of paper over her shoulder. The others follow suit. "Love is an escape from self," says another, burying his head in the arm of a partner. The rest repeat these words and actions. "Love brings surprises" leads to the initial surprise of one man grabbing a partner by the foot and dragging him halfway around the floor. This love talk goes on for quite a while, through many variations, during which some actual dancey-dance breaks out only to be cheekily undercut by the Broadway razzmatazz its dancers momentarily give it. Scott and company seem to be aware of the inherent disruptive weirdness of mixing privileged dance and theater specialists with folks new to the pleasure and power of movement as a means of artistic expression. They pack the self-consciousness of all of this into the piece, and they don't care if some of the raggedy ends of that hang outside the luggage. It's more fun (and more disruptive) that way.

There's nothing new about "breaking the fourth wall"--and certainly not at La MaMa--but it's cute how John Scott Dance does it in The White Piece where your footwear might get removed to become a flamboyantly admired prop. And not just one time. Then again, if you're fortunate enough to actually be the great Sara Rudner--a Scott colleague--the choreographer might trot over to you and say, "Thank you for coming. I'm giving the rest of this performance for you, and if you need anything, let me know."

But you probably don't have to be Sara Rudner to receive the gift of The White Piece, if willing. After the company's post-show Q&A, guided by La MaMa curator Nicky Paraiso, I left the theater feeling a touch giddy and with a noticeable pep in my step. It's true that, in most times, I am a lighthearted soul and that most dance nourishes me. Even so, this was an unexpected sensation.

The White Piece--performed by Joanna Banks, Ashley Chen, Philip Connaughton, Crinela, James Hosty, Kiribu, Sarah Patience, Florence Welalo Poudima, Rebecca Reilly, John ScottDaniel Squire, Cheryl Therrien and Mufutau (Junior) Kehinde Yusuf--runs through Sunday, March 24. For schedule and ticket details, click here.

La MaMa (Ellen Stewart Theatre)
66 East 4th Street (2nd Floor), Manhattan


Anonymous said...

Good article. It's my favorite dance blog, always see something new and fresh. Thank you. I read a lot about ballroom dance but this blog has all kind of usefull information.

Lydia said...

I would see this in a heartbeat if I were in New York, Eva. Looks marvelous! Maybe they will bring The White Piece to Portland in the future (I can hope).

Eva Yaa Asantewaa said...

I bet John Scott and his dancers would love to show it in Portland!

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