Friday, June 29, 2018

Sidra Bell's worlds of imagination and friction

Sidra Bell who presents two works this week
at New York Live Arts
(photo: David Flores)

I'm on the fence about Sidra Bell's new work F R I C T I O N (prequel)--on the bill now at New York Live Arts along with 2014's garment (Director's Choice) about which I am unreservedly enthusiastic. And so it goes. Like super-clever sci fi writers and filmmakers, Sidra Bell Dance New York creates new worlds, exactingly-designed ones and hellish, to which we are invited. We don't have to go, and maybe we don't always.

F R I C T I O N opens this season's lengthy program--two hours with an intermission. You don't get dancers more weirdly excellent--and let me underscore, here, both *weird* and *excellent*--than Bell's troupe. But I really found it difficult to stay with 56 minutes of them behaving like soulless, mechanistic blips in a manic video game. It was just not for me. That's not to say that the audacity and stylishness of Bell's entire interdisciplinary aesthetic isn't brilliant and impressive and even hypnotically seductive. It is.

But then there's garment (Director's Choice), which has already won praise, and rightly so. This 47-minute work has been promoted as:

a playful, slightly offensive jaunt that attempts to rescue the individual by constructing a world that navigates popular zeitgeists, cultural rituals and social containers. Conceived through materials the work exercises small performance ceremonies and allows the performers to speak and mask through filters to observe identity, appropriation, political incorrectness, subliminal language, transfiguration, nonsense, influence, authorship, and reformation. you’ll be remembered…###


But the team really worked the hell out of this one, in both sight and sound. There's Bell, the auteur who bills herself as "Director," not choreographer. And there's Amith Chandrashaker (Creative Director, Lighting Design, Décor), an adept of space and atmosphere, and costume designer Caitlin Taylor. Costuming, as might be guessed, looms large in Bell's universe but so much more here where it suggests a kind of kinky-glamorous masking of the self; an angry, frustrating search for a less-fraught, more ordinary self; and--with Sebastian Abarbanell's expansive, ritualistic solo--finally a taste of freedom.

Bell's worlds are singular--even when colliding with the worlds of Pina Bausch, fashion and Harlem's ballrooms, as they do here. They fold and contort as much as Abarbanell's uncanny body. They are as ridiculously opulent as an extravagant hotel. It's hard not to cheer Bell on when you see all these things laid out just right and danced to perfection by this crew: Abarbanell, Tushrik Fredericks, Drew Lewis, Misa Kinno Lucyshyn, Madison Wada and Leal Zielińska, her self-described "boutique brand of prolific movement illustrators...."

Sidra Bell Dance New York continues through July 1. For schedule and ticket information, click here.

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

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