Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dancing By Not Dancing

Prospero and the replicants. Photo: Jorg Baumann
Several shows being presented in New York this week underscore how important dancers' training is, not in the obvious sense of dance technique, but in other ways of moving and communicating.

The Tempest Replica, by Crystal Pite for her company Kidd Pivot (at the Joyce through Dec 2), is a tautly produced, highly theatrical spectacle that traces the themes of Shakespeare's work. In the first half, Prospero is surrounded by "replicas" of the main characters, automatons clad entirely in white, including fencing-like headgear. Video provides exposition and scene structure, and subtle warm-to-cool shifts in lighting set the mood in the all-white setting. In the second part, the dancers doff their white coverings and dance in street clothes, acquiring humanity and pathos. 

But their effectiveness as automatons was remarkable, robot-walking and gliding effortlessly around the stage. At times, they'd react with emotion in humanesque fashion, as in a brief romance, much to their own surprise. But it showed the power and potential for expression by these highly trained bodies, even devoid of facial expression.

At the BAM Fisher, Lucy Guerin's Untrained matches two trained dancers with two untrained guys in a series of exercises, including dance moves and phrases. Of course it's hilarious to see these endearing "untraineds" fumble through some of the harder stuff. But it's remarkable to realize how essential the function of the brain is in companion with a learned physical intelligence. It's similar to learning an instrument, it just happens to be one you live in.

And over at the Harvey, SITI Company's performing Anne Bogart's production of Trojan Women, which examines the power and powerlessness of the women of Troy. One of the primary subjects of said topic is Helen, played by longtime Martha Graham principal Katherine Crockett. Her statuesque elegance and beauty require no acting, but she also has many lines and interactions with the ensemble, which she handles skillfully. But perhaps the simple acts best express her foundation as a highly-skilled dancer: standing, walking, reclining, turning her head in profile, basically acting regal. After embodying Martha Graham's Clytemnestra, Helen's a piece of cake.

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