Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tyler Ashley premieres "KIDNAP ME" at Dixon Place

Spaciousness and freedom are at the core of dancer Tyler Ashley's artistic and genderqueer quest. His new ensemble work KIDNAP ME cries out for escape from regulation that might come only from being "rescued" in the suggested way. When I looked at this piece, danced last night at Dixon Place's 23rd annual HOT! Festival with extraordinary stamina, I flashed back to medieval diagrams of the cosmos, every single object and being set in its place and its pace within concentric circles in eternal whirl according to the direction of some offstage, unseen force. (In this case, the Great Offstage Director is visible, operating a mic and a Mac, and her name is Gillian Walsh.)

Ashley and his collaborating performers--Aranzazu Araujo, McSherry, Diego Montoya, Shane Shane, Rakia Seaborn and Walsh--could not be more different from one another in appearance. But each occupies a place and fulfills a function within KIDNAP ME's well-regulated system. What unfolds over ninety minutes is repetitive, driven and most frequently circular--sweeping, prancing or backpedaling in front of our eyes in a way that, in the viewer's experience, can go from acceptable to interesting to head-swimming to mind-numbing to skin-crawling.

At times, one or another part of this grand pattern splits off into a central space or its own time frame as if to give us zoomed-in views of particular specimens. In another moment, though, the surge of bodies might bunch up, the stream of movement becoming a little raggedy and collision-prone as the carousel-like music momentarily stammers.

As it proceeds, KIDNAP ME can come off as giddy and a little childish, but it builds. Follow it and, before you know it, you're in the holy, manic presence of the Maid of Orléans (via Julius Eastman's stark, declamatory vocal music) or watching Ashley draw black-marker portraits of his dancers' genitals on plywood boards or having his naked flesh whacked by the boards as, under Walsh's direction, he carefully works his delicate, willowy limbs into various ballet positions. "You can hit him harder," Walsh instructs, and sometimes the dancers do just that.

Influenced not only by Eastman's music but also Bela Tarr's acclaimed film, The Turin Horse, KIDNAP ME is a big, ambitious project in a little frame--and a reminder that most contemporary dance gets short shrift in terms of opportunities to be seen and carefully absorbed. It's good that Dixon Place found a night to include this work in its slate of queer programs, but let's hope Ashley will secure more venues and more time.

For more HOT! Festival shows--now through August 2--click here.

Dixon Place
161A Chrystie Street (between Rivington and Delancey Streets), Manhattan

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