Thursday, February 22, 2018

Bebe Miller Company and Susan Rethorst make room for process

Gabrielle Revlock and Gregory Holt
in Susan Rethorst's Stealing from Myself
(photo: Robert Altman)

Go here now.

It's "The Making Room," the cleverly-named online home (in development) dedicated to a meeting of the minds between dancemakers Bebe Miller and Susan Rethorst in embodied conversation about creative process "from start to premiere." This week, these two also share evenings at New York Live Arts where, if lucky enough to snare a ticket, you can sit among downtown's savviest artists and watch stellar performers of contemporary dance charge and activate space.

The Making Room is a much longer evening than one might expect at NYLA or most downtown spaces. Rethorst's duet, Stealing from Myself, runs 35 minutes, and Miller's ensemble, In a Rhythm, clocks in at 70. Between them: a 15-minute intermission. So: a commitment. Sort of like your trip to see Ailey, including Revelations...and maybe including revelations. Somehow, though, it never feels excessively long.

Both artists, admirably, draw from a seemingly bottomless, self-refreshing well of movement ideas; in the case of Rethorst, that also includes recycled material (hence, the "stealing from myself"). With Rethorst, the fascination is in watching how she deploys the bodies of Gabrielle Revlock and Gregory Holt along with simple props (two wood chairs, two small stacks of books) without being precious about how we usually see things--the bodies being people and the props being inanimate. Everything presented to us has shape and parts that, like 3-D puzzle pieces, can be set in motion, as if by Mickey's magic wand, and placed in proximity to each other in quirky ways, often at high speed. The pace of the pair's opening section makes things especially amusing if not laugh-out-loud funny. Seeing the familiar put to unfamiliar uses begins to make the viewer call everything into question. When something emerges that kinda looks like a ballet run through a Rethorstian blender, you just chuckle to yourself. Well, of course she would.

With Miller, I found myself not paying attention so much to individual movement ideas as to how she surveyed and, with her ensemble, claimed the landscape of the space, even extending it by leaving houselights up at times and addressing us directly to share artists and incidents that influence her making. The dancers are Michelle Boulé, Christal Brown, Sarah Gamblin, Angie Hauser, Bronwen MacArthurTrebien Pollard and sometimes, and wonderfully, Miller herself. There's that initial, clean, floaty flow; agitation and scattering; sweep around and across the floor; a wash of movement, a splattering, a peeling away, a deft shifting of arrangements; a droopy hanging out together. Here and there, a centerpiece, like Boulé sailing over this song by Donny Hathaway which one YouTube commentor has rightly described as "grown folks music." Boulé gives us full-out grown-folks dancing, as she always does. The juxtaposition of that song--a man giving his all even when he has very little--and her performance is heart-stopping. It might be my imagination, but it sure looked like Boulé made everyone else after her work harder--even Miller.

I also enjoyed noticing individual minds at work--no two alike--and, in particular, watched for Christal Brown's decisions. I assuming they were decisions, not directives, because they looked that way, like they arose from her in the moment, had her signature and were fully hers to make. They made me think back to Miller's citing of Toni Morrison--and the frustrating silliness of an interview Charlie Rose conducted with the valiant Black author (questioning why she always has to write about Black people). In the face of so much failure to "get it," the corrective is just to persist in being Toni Morrison, being Christal Brown, being Michelle Boulé and Bebe Miller. Do what you do and press on.

The Making Room continues nightly through Saturday, February 24 with performances at 7:30pm. After tonight's program, there will be a Stay Late conversation. Saturday, from 2-4PM: Shared Practice. For information and tickets, click here.

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues), Manhattan

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