Friday, September 30, 2016

RoseAnne Spradlin marks her Joyce spot with "X"

L-r: Dancers Asli Bulbul, Connor Voss and Kayvon Pourazar
of RoseAnne Spradlin/Performance Projects
(photo: Glen Fogel)

 A quadrille is an 18th century dance performed in a rectangular configuration and viewed from four sides. To kick off its 2016/17 season, The Joyce Theater will be transformed for the NY Quadrille, a sensational two-week engagement created by renowned choreographer Lar Lubovitch and commissioned by The Joyce featuring a specially constructed platform stage designed to create viewing from four sides. Following through with the spirit of “four,” Lubovitch has selected four exciting choreographers—Pam Tanowitz, RoseAnne Spradlin, Tere O’Connor, and Loni Landon to create contemporary dance works on four sides. Each quadrille will be performed on its own program, with each program performed four times over the course of the two weeks. This transformation of The Joyce is sure to challenge audiences to embrace a new concept of the theater’s physical space and to appreciate the artistry of the four choreographers chosen to participate in this exciting event.
 --for promotional material for NY Quadrille

Lar Lubovitch's design and curatorial experiment, NY Quadrille, has landed on The Joyce Theater like an alien mothership scorching circles into a cornfield.

I hear that square performance platform now eating part of the regular stage area and part of the regular audience seating cost the Joyce a lot of coins. My first sight of it--from the vantage point of one of the remaining front-facing seats--made me think I must have overshot the mark and ended up a few avenues away at The Kitchen. Or maybe really overshot and ended up at BAM Fisher. To be honest, this was both exciting and unsettling. And that disturbing ambivalence only intensified when I saw what RoseAnne Spradlin had created for her turn at the quadrille--X, a trio for contemporary dance stars Asli Bulbul, Connor Voss and Kayvon Pourazar, all of whom deserve a hefty pay raise.

Kudos to Lubovitch for giving multiple Bessie-winning Spradlin her Joyce debut. NY Quadrille, on the whole, is an intentional risk. One Times writer, previewing the two-week series, actually called out the Joyce for habitual "staleness," and Lubovitch's initiative certainly throws open a new set of windows. But how will it play with the typical Joyce-goer?

I don't know how Tanowitz fared or how O'Connor and Landon will fare during their runs, but dance press seemed to outnumber civilians at Spradlin's opening night. And, yes, I'm wildly exaggerating, but you get the picture. Someone in the Joyce lobby wondered aloud if City Center's more affordable, aesthetically-accessible Fall for Dance might have drawn the usual Joyce fans uptown.

The evening did not go easy on those who took up the challenge. Spradlin's audience grew quite fidgety--in one man's case, openly surly. Even early on, people started bailing out of the show. And with Joe Levasseur's lights keeping dancers and their gawkers in constant view of one another, those departures were not exactly subtle.

X deserved better, certainly its dancers did, maintaining prodigious concentration and composure even in the face of one man crying out, "Just stop!" But, hey, I'm a downtown girl. I've sat through gnarlier (and less rewarding) stuff. Spradlin is kind of my jam.

Still, even for me, the hour-and-change with X was not without struggle. The audience annoyed me. A lot. I did not want to see or hear them. Glen Fogel's sound work reminded me too often of the less-decorous aspects and processes of life in a body. The repeated and repeated and repeated use of "Love's Theme"--Love Unlimited Orchestra's era-evoking instrumental--got under my skin. The dancers' stately, ritualized tasks of lifting and shifting and rearranging their gymnastic bars--suggesting, by rapid turns of association, heavy gym weights, portable ballet barres, monkey bars and barricades--eventually wore me out, too.

Yet these X-cesses read like a poem meant to burrow its way under the viewer's skin. A continuous push-and-pull between what cannot be easily controlled--human bodies in the wild--and the overlaying, controlling law of structure. Shifts and returns, both unexpected and, of course, expected. Voss's supple, sylph-like form rendered strangely weighty and awkward by Pourazar lifting and handling. Pourazar's unexpected reverse of this pattern--all floaty, slidey grace as he slips his body around Voss's with just a lightly-firm pressure from Voss's hand. Metal rods that, straddled first by Bulbul then by the others, combine the utilitarian with the suggestive. Sniper maneuvers mimicked, with dead seriousness, over disco sound: I'm never, ever gonna quit/'Cause quittin' ain't my stick.

Pourazar, Voss and Bulbul don't quit--even when some viewers do--'cause quittin' ain't their stick. With and for Spradlin, they refuse to compromise for our love but work damn hard for our respect.

X continues through October 2. For schedule information and tickets, click here.

The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (corner of 19th Street), Manhattan

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