Saturday, February 27, 2016

Harkness Dance Festival: Keely Garfield Dance in "POW"

Molly Lieber and Keely Garfield
in Garfield's POW
(photo: Julie Lemberger)

The dancing body is exposed to the golden wind and shines through.
--Keely Garfield

Keely Garfield calls POW--presented this weekend at 92Y's Harkness Dance Festival--"a 'Frankenstein' of a dance made from scraps of fear and loathing that are boldly transformed, sutured, amplified and left to run amok, creating a brave new version of events."

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein character was the creator, not his creation, the monster. Maybe, in some sense, that's relevant, too.

POW does seem, like Frankenstein's poor monster, a fragile, vulnerable construction, one with a look of intense, obsessive labor about it. The hour-long ensemble work--a trio plus pianist/singer Matthew Brookshire--might inspire the viewer to zoom out to consider every contour and suture of the whole production, observing how beauty and disturbance lie a mere thin veil away from each other. On the other hand, particular imagery and energies, here and there, might ensnare you, a valid way to respond to the too-muchness of it all.

Garfield's opening solo
(photo: Julie Lemberger)

Garfield first presents herself as a woman precariously striding about and rocking her hips in a sheer mesh unitard--a cross of white tape covering one nipple--and firetruck-red, fringed stillettos. This reads, immediately, as extravagance crossed with eccentricity, and get used to the fact of much matter-of-fact crisscrossing in POW and little by way of explanation for it.

There might be a reason for dancers Paul Hamilton and Molly Lieber to show up in matching black leotards that read "I Only Got Ice For You." Or there might not be. But molding these two bodies into the space--frequently evoking un-theatrical but full-out movements of champion athletes, frequently testing power of statuesque balance against gravity--illustrates Garfield's interest in the commitment and heroism of dance/the body in the face of ultimate extinction, exposed to the golden wind. Much of POW alludes to extremity and the eternal in ways that seem squeezed between the cornball and the genuinely moving. Just try pulling them in one direction or the other. They won't budge.

Garfield and Hamilton
(photo: Julie Lemberger)

Some things, for me, did not resolve. I resisted Brookshire's intermittent role in the performance even as I got it. But one section of the work absolutely gripped me--Garfield and Hamilton crawling, rhythmically lumbering across the floor to (and with) Rihanna's stunning reggae-pop song "No Love Allowed."
Like a bullet your love me hit me to the coreI was flying 'til you knocked me to the floorAnd it's so foolish how you keep me wanting moreI'm screaming murderer, how could you murder usI call it murder, no love allowed
No coincidence, I take it, that Hamilton is a Black Jamaican and Garfield white and British-born and that she ultimately mounts his back and presses his body to the floor. We see that and cannot un-see it, cannot un-think its implication.

Without warning, Garfield drops her audience into the mess of race, societal and domestic violence, white privilege, all of that while producing the kind of movement that, against our will, rocks our insides. As if that's not enough, the two dancers also cram their heaving bodies against the legs of a couple of people in the front row as if to say, "You think you're not part of this, but you are. Take what is yours, too."

POW continues through Sunday with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Lexington Avenue and 92nd Street, Manhattan

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