Saturday, February 20, 2016

Setterfield and Scott ask "Who is Lear?"

Valda Setterfield's sublimity (there's no other word for it) and her postmodern cred--dancing for Merce Cunningham and husband David Gordon--place her in the highest echelon of "downtown" royalty. Now, in Lear--a collaboration with Irish dancemaker John Scott at New York Live Arts--she plays a king, sort of. But if you're looking for Shakespeare's King Lear, go curl up with a copy.

At first sight, Setterfield reflects the true nature of her kingship and of this dance-theater piece. Her crown: a childish, white paper cutout flattened around her head. Her stride: direct but understated, drama-free. When was the last time a monarch tossed little wrapped candies at you?

You will wisely note the title--Lear, not King Lear--and contemplate the possibility that, for this character, status is already beside the point, a thing of the past or no longer of consequence.

Setterfield first breathes a few simple words: "Family. Love. Children...." Her arms and hands flutter but without fuss, merely hinting at tradition or story. "Daughters. Kingdom. Death." She seems to summon these things from within herself and, before long, "daughters" do indeed appear.

Solemnly pacing or pelting back and forth, three male dancers embody daughters Goneril (Marcus Bellamy), Regan (Ryan O'Neill) and Cordelia (Keven Coquelard), presenting a dilemma to Lear. Who truly loves Lear? Clever, seductive declarations ensue, as do conflicts, elaborately imagined in language and movement. The daughters appear to be devices that--irritating and irritable--rock Lear back to something resembling life.

Setterfield and Scott took the inspiration for Lear from shared experience--their dying fathers. They sample Shakespeare but keep us constantly aware of the today-ness of their personal investment in the themes and outline of the source material. And they do so with a light hand, humor, modest ambition and the reliability of Setterfield's clarity and restraint.

At the end, alone in the space, she revisits some of her earliest, and most mysterious, gestures as if re-folding the energy of the three conjured, now-vanished daughters into her body.

The John Scott Dance production of Lear concludes this evening with a 7:30pm performance. For information and tickets, click here.

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

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