|Above: Nico Brown (front) with Simon Courchel in COWHAND CON MAN|
Below: Jon Kinzel with one of Jarrod Beck's prop/sculptures
(photos: Scott Shaw)
At any point in Jon Kinzel's new ensemble work, COWHAND CON MAN--at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center through October 31--feel free to drop "why" from your vocabulary. Let it go.
Tempted to unravel the title? Sure. Go ahead. Then just stop.
Tempted to try to figure out Jarrod Beck's surreal visual design and how it's used? Take your shot. Then sit back.
Wondering why Nina Katan costumes each dancer differently? About the specificity of that costuming? About Katan's most conspicuous decision--sheathing EmmaGrace Skove-Epes in must-be-sweltering Lurex shirt and slacks? No need to obsess.
Losing yourself in Jim Dawson and Kinzel's woozy, haunted sound collage? Stay lost.
That brings us around to Kinzel's choreography and his own dancing with the lovely ensemble of Nico Brown, Simon Courchel, Omagbitse Omagbemi, and Skove-Epes. Because in a universe where nothing's fixed in place or meaning, at least choreography can serve as your North Star, right?
Don't count on it.
The dizzying beauty of COWHAND CON MAN lies in how it pulls the ground out from under you. Sort of the way the whole thing opens with a diagonal strand of fluorescent lights being slowly pulled out of sight. Just because.
Why were those fluorescent lights there to begin with? I haven't the foggiest.
The initial sensation--based on the manner of audience placement in Gibney's Studio C for this production--is one of being cornered in one section of the space. Beck's massive, inexplicable sculptures, though somewhat distant from the audience, dominate the environment. Some of them will double, in an equally inexplicable way, as props; they await activation. But they are never out of sight. They can remain, even in peripheral view, a bother to your need for reason.
But you learn, first from watching Brown and Courchel calmly, silently climbing onto and off each other, to follow dance without grasping at it--or without grasping it, which sounds like the same thing but is not. It breaks you down a little.
And then, broken down a little, you can be in the space with the dancing.
You might notice, again in Brown and Courchel's interactions, that nothing ever seems completed. They resemble circus acrobats making all-essential connections of their hands without the payoff of the anticipated risky and thrilling trick. You learn to not look for any payoff there or anywhere else in the hour-long piece. It's like asking a question and not waiting for an answer because the first response and the one after that and the one after that one is an endless series of new questions. The way it's not ever going to be clear why choreographer Kinzel parks Courchel by the studio's mirror wall for a long stretch of time, or why the light, springy dancer slips from angelic to demonic to Apollonian in a single evolving passage. Or why, at a later moment, Courchel and Kinzel clasp and lock hands, their conjoined arms violently writhing as if electrified. Answers never come.
All of this forces you down into the quality(ies) of the movements and interactions, where there is pleasure if you watch for it. Choreography as microscopic lens. Have a look.
COWHAND CON MAN continues with 7:30pm performances tonight and tomorrow, resuming next week, Wednesday-Saturday, October 28-31. For information and ticketing, click here.
Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (Enter at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan