Saturday, May 5, 2012

Baldwin and Obarzanek's Human Connection

Ambient Cowboy. Photo: Aram Jibilian
Two intimate shows this past week were reminders of how essential the human connection is in dance. New York Live Arts presented Ivy Baldwin's new work, Ambient Cowboy, a work for four dancers. And Chunky Move scaled way down at the Joyce Soho, where outgoing artistic director and company founder Gideon Obarzanek went solo in a personal piece on the expectations of being a choreographer.

Baldwin took a more minimal approach than in recent works, which had more formal costumes and sets. The company (Baldwin, Lawrence Cassella, Molly Poerstel-Taylor, and Eleanor Smith) is credited for Cowboy's elegant draped sheer black tunics and trunks. Anna Schuleit designed the ingenious, digitally projected scribbled-light "set," in one instance pinning Eleanor Smith to the floor with a net of light, like a space-age Gulliver. Justin Jones created the sketchy, fleeting sound.

Baldwin's work contains very human aspects, such as endearing, sometimes awkward interactions, and a sense of lightheartedness. The work begins with Cassella exaggeratedly breathing, the most basic human function. All four cluster and create a shifting tableau around one of the women in a cat pose, with another dancer's arm filling in for a wagging tail. The choreography can look deceptively easy. A repeated phrase involves balancing on one foot and very slowly passing the free leg from a front extension to the back. The feeling of randomness is quickly subverted when the dancers move together in formation, or suddenly resemble a Rodin sculpture. The piece is quietly moving without any overt narrative.

On the other hand, Obarzanek is all about narrative in Faker, a twist on Krapp's Last Tape, with the desk and spotlight. With a laptop instead of a tape recorder, he reads an email from someone who commissioned him to choreograph a work for her. We hear of her disappointment or failed expectations, broken up by sections of movement varying from silly (mumbling unknown words to a pop song) to lushly muscular. A confessional valedictory performance, much was forgiven knowing Obarzanek's usual penchant for experimentation within the form, and for his solid, satisfying choreography. No doubt we will see him down the road officially untethered from his company, trying out new things.

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