Thursday, October 3, 2013

Zuštiak's apocalypse now

Dancers of Palissimo in Endangered Pieces
all photos © Jeff Woodward
We seem helplessly drawn to dark visions of apocalypse in our art and even our entertainment--perhaps because, as a species, we've done so much to seed and hasten it. Or perhaps it is because we face down doom not only on a planet-wide scale but in every private life and, potentially, in every personal moment of those lives. In Tarot, the image of the Wheel of Fortune turns without cease, bringing the high and mighty to the depths and raising new victors who, themselves, will be supplanted.

The world premiere of Endangered Pieces, a trio by choreographer Pavel Zuštiak of Palissimo, occasions these thoughts.

As the audience files in, the open, raw mainstage at Abrons Arts Center reveals a naked man (dancer Jaro Viňarský) lying face up and motionless on the floor. Electronic music (by collaborators Christian Frederickson and Bobby McElver) fills the air with a dense, chugging texture. Three tall metal poles with heavy bases have also been toppled. A gate of corrugated metal rises just high enough to show us the shins of a second dancer (Matthew Rogers) and then to allow the choreographer to emerge and pull a lighting cord from its socket.

In this stark, industrial environment, Zuštiak and Rogers go about with expressionless, workman-like calm, standing up the poles and attempting to keep the corpse-like Viňarský on his feet. Each time they raise him and release him, he softly slips to the floor. They flip him vertically, horizontally, sling him over Roger's shoulders, drape him over Zuštiak's thighs like Jesus of the Pietà, only face down, ass outward. In these moments and throughout the hour-long piece, Joe Levasseur's eccentric lighting enhances a dreamlike, even Daliesque feeling, adding at least one or two extra dimensions to the 3D of moving beings that sometimes do not resemble humans like us.

Behind the metal gate, the wall of a recessed area has been covered in short planks of wood snuggly fit together and warmly lit. One or another dancer will sometimes enter this modern cave then slip from view, but its shelter is not long for existence.

Voiceover material instructs us to "imagine the last man" and to question what he does and "Does he even understand what he is doing?" A lot of imagining went into the powerful look and sound and performance of this piece. If it sometimes drags (as during the "let's just experiment with all these planks from the busted-up wall" segment), it also sounds an unavoidable alarm.

See Endangered Pieces at the Abrons Arts Center Playhouse. Remaining shows: October 4-5, 10-12, 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

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