Wednesday, February 26, 2014

TAO Dance Theater—Revolutionary Forms

5. Photo: Fan Xi
TAO Dance Theater slipped into New York last weekend as part of China: Visions + Voices at Skirball Center. I'd seen them previously at Lincoln Center Festival and Fall For Dance, when I'd been blown away by their kinetic invention and physical endurance and flexibility. 

The choreography, by Tao Ye, is an intriguing mix of completely anti-ego and highly theatrical. In the premiere, 5, five (yep) dancers in pale loose pants and long-sleeved tops (by Tao Ye, Duan Ni, and Li Min) lie in a heap and slip, slide, and roll over one another in circles around the stage, like a nest of writhing snakes. They complete perhaps seven or eight hypnotic loops. The pace is steady and amazingly controlled; not once does an errant foot or head hit the floor askance. Legs and torsos rise like whales slowly surfacing from the deep. 
4. Photo: Fan Xi
Near the end of the work, a couple of the dancers land on their feet for brief moments, alluding to the evolution of homo sapiens, only to sink back down and once again become intertwined with the others. Presumably the entire piece is carefully choreographed, or rules have been set on how to deal with feet avoiding faces and other unpredictabilities. In any case, the amount of experimentation and rehearsal time that went into crafting this is beyond comprehension. The lighting, by Ma Yue and Tao Ye, shifts from overall dim dusk to bright spotlight and variations in between. Xiao He's score evolves from distant foghorns and bell tones, to flute and plucked string passages, to strident piano lines. 

The group also performed 4 (choreographed by Tao Ye), seen previously at Lincoln Center. While predictably, in a second viewing it was diminished in novelty and surprise, it still made a powerful statement, especially paired with 5. (I wrote about previously it here.) From all they've done so far in New York, it's clear that every chance to see the company should be seized—it's a good bet that you'll see something completely new.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kung Fu Razzle Dazzle

Shooting star! Cole Horibe as Bruce Lee. Photo: Joan Marcus
Kung Fu, the new show by David Henry Hwang, directed by Leigh Silverman at Signature Theater, is an immensely entertaining stage version of Bruce Lee's story up until he found big-screen success. It begins with his early days in Seattle as a martial arts teacher (and would-be Martha Graham dancer!), marriage (to Patty, played by Phoebe Strole, recently of Glee) and growing family, a move to Hollywood, and ultimately his bitter resignation at having to return to Hong Kong to cultivate his career as one of the screen's most famous action heroes.

Cole Horibe as Lee, in his theater debut, is the big attraction. Not exactly an unknown, his bona fides include honors in martial arts competitions as well as a stint on So You Think You Can Dance, plus an intangible star quality. The Hawaiian native, who in life speaks with no accent, affects Chinese-accented English, which—impressively—decreases in severity and gaffes as time passes. He has the fleet-footed boxing prance of Lee, as well as steely fighting skills and an implied psychological superiority that gave Lee an instant upper hand. He coils and strikes like a cobra, and deploys plenty of that SYTYCD zazz. (His hair is more Elvis than Bruce Lee bangs, but apparently that was the style earlier in Lee's life.)
Francis Jue as Lee's deceased father also makes a strong impression, haunting his son in flashbacks and moments of conscience signalled with golden light. Lee apparently fought with his father—a professional clown—throughout his life; a combat scene between the two depicts this conflict, and becomes a metaphor for old generation versus new. Peter Kim's comical physicality allows him to convincingly portray a meek, dorky young man (Toshi) who becomes Lee's confidant, as well as a glad-handin film executive (Dozier).

The production numbers, choreographed by Sonya Tayeh with fights directed by Emmanuel Brown, are the meat of the show, and there are many opportunities to showcase the impressive cast: kung fu class, a dance hall, a funeral and traditionally costumed (albeit in day-glo) parade, and more. Horibe is the sun around which the other planets revolve. He tends to shout his lines for emphasis, but his magnetism and physical prowess are undeniable. 

Battling demons and dad. Francis Jue and Cole Horibe. Photo: Joan Marcus

Act 2 contains a few scenes that drag on, such as when Lee recuperates from his back injury and interacts with his eventually ill-fated son Brandon (Bradley Fong), and when he and James Coburn (Clifton Duncan) travel to India to make a film with no studio support. But for the most part, the two-hour show moves briskly, paced by many production numbers with show-biz dazzle (video here).

The issue of racism recurs throughout the show, as it did in Lee's life. He was cast as Kato in The Green Hornet, which flopped even though Lee emerged as the show's sleeper star. A show developed as a vehicle for Lee, called The Warrior and retitled Kung Fu, wound up starring caucasian David Carradine in part due to a severe back injury Lee suffered, as well as lingering racism against Asians in general painted with a broad anti-Japanese brush. (I presume Hwang chose the same title as a little karmic recalibration.) After rejecting Asia for most of his life, Lee was forced to return to Hong Kong to pursue his brief film career; he made just one, albeit important, film in the US—Enter the Dragon.

Even if he hoped so, he couldn't have known that his name would become synonymous with martial arts action films even decades after his death by cerebral edema at the age of 32. And yet, the fame he had envisioned since he was a boy lives on in this entertaining production that draws on action heroes, the American dream (and compromises therein), and good old show biz.

Additional production credits: set design: David Zinn; costumes: Anita Yavich; lighting: Ben Stanton; sound: Darron L West; projections: Darrel Maloney; composer: Du Yung.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tinkerers at Play Among the Sculptures

Photo by Rebecca Greenfield
Twinned, a Met Museum Presents collaboration between Alarm Will Sound and Dance Heginbotham, pushed the dance/music partnership farther than ever. Musical choices form the common ground between the two groups, who performed in the soaring American sculpture court on a temporary stage centered around St. Gaudens' elegant golden Diana sculpture (the performers moved around the sculptures in situ, at times playing hide and seek among them). The performance included compositions by Edgard Varèse, Richard D. James, and Tyondai Braxton, plus transition segments by Raymond Scott marked by their scratchy recording quality and projections of ones and zeroes wallpapered over the entire courtyard.
Photo by Rebecca Greenfield
The two dozen or so members of Alarm Will Sound, led by the intrepid Alan Pierson, move nearly as much as Heginbotham's seven dancers. The musicians entered and took unorthodox positions before the action began—one kneeling, head resting on trombone; another lying on her side. Pierson strode dramatically to the podium, where he placed his large e-tablet containing his score (pic here), and began Varèse's Intégrales, which emphasized antiphony and the specific placement and directionality of sounds. Each instrument could be heard clearly, like a jungle full of animals rousing and crying out in turn. The piece ended with a huge crash of percussion, like the loudest thunder clap marking the end of a storm.

The piccolo, flute, and clarinet players had it easier than the cellist or bass drummer, who pushed her instrument around on wheels, but everyone moved swiftly and decisively as staged. (Some seemed to run in an overly dramatic fashion in leather soled heels that added to the percussion, intentionally or not.) A player stood on the second floor balcony, others were placed at a distance, near the Tiffany stained glass installation. The primary orchestra setup sat behind the dance stage, in front of the 1822 bank building facade, dramatically lit red, violet, and blue. The stage was bounded by LED floor units which offered great lighting flexibility and control. In general, the production values were impressive, particularly for a one-night event.

Photo by Rebecca Greenfield
Two dancers took the stage wearing geometric, b&w print leotards and white K-Swiss kicks (costumes by Maile Okamura). The energetic movement involved sharp punches and kicks, angular limbs, and precise maneuvers reminiscent of a drill team, to Richard D. James' jazzy, whimsical score played by the orchestra now gathered in the "pit" around Pierson. Like the composers in the program, Heginbotham is a tinkerer—cobbling together odd gestures such as protruding tongues, Chaplinesque arm spins, and circling wrists with childrens' moves like pony steps and traveling chassées. Three more joined, including John Eirich in a long white caryatid skirt; the five moved in formation, dodging the sculptures.

After another Raymond Scott interlude, the dancers joined the orchestra in the pit for Varèse's Poème électronique, playing novelty instruments—striking a pipe, cranking a fishing reel thingy, whacking a gong, crinkling cellophane. Three movements by James followed, and the performers migrated onto the stage, centered around Eirich, pogo-ing and orbited the stage. Eight dancers and musicians, heads dropped, chugged en masse as Eirich jumped and darted like a bird. The musicians lay down, playing their instruments (even the cellist). The dancers changed into equestrian garb for the final section, featuring Tyondai Braxton's premiere of Fly By Wire. This intriguing composition is by turns melodic, jaunty, sparkling, and triumphant. The dancers galloped, hands gripping invisible reins—again, like children wholly committed to the game at hand, in this case, involving horses. The imagery painted a vivid tableau, although it felt a bit narrow for such a textured and evocative score. Nonetheless, the two groups and their musical choices were an inspired collaborative effort.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Benon—Straw or Plastic?

Souleymane Badolo and Charmaine Warren. Photo: Ian Douglas
Souleymane Badolo is one of a few artists who has burnished a reputation by performing solo (coincidentally, his nickname). He has a strong presence—full of humanity, both vulnerable and dignified, that radiates from not just his face, but from every part of his body. For his new work at Danspace Project, Benon, Charmaine Warren—a writer, scholar, and dancer—joins him onstage, also emanating great pathos and power. The audience is seated on all four sides of the St. Marks sanctuary; Tony Turner has created two sculptures made of empty plastic bottles (one is lit from inside), and a panel of black wooden planks. 

Shadowed closely by Warren, wearing a hooded cloak of clear plastic over a dress with a Hefty-strip skirt (by Wunmi), Badolo clutches an armful of plastic cups, dropping one now and then to produce a clatter. Warren looks like a ghost wordlessly guiding him to inflict her evil plastic bidding on the earth. Jeff Hudgins plays the sax in the choir loft; as he moves from one side to another, and then downstairs, the sound shifts like a restless spirit.

After a long spell of wandering, the two dancers face one another, making a burst of small hand gestures. Badolo puts on the cloak, and they both fling themselves on their stomachs like human bowling balls, knocking into the scattered cups. Warren prowls the edge of a sharply lit oval (lighting by Carol Mullins); the music shifts to a recording of a plucked instrument with vocals. She rolls her shoulders, scoops air toward her face, and poses with one foot in a forced arch. Badolo has donned a tunic embellished with grass that sits perpendicularly to his arms and torso, transforming him into a bristling mythic creature of nature. Warren places some grass rings, mats, and fronds in a circle around Badolo, whose every careful pose is accentuated by the tunic. She removes his tunic piece by piece, leaving him bare-chested—the human in between nature and industrialization. He approaches a couple of viewers and stares at them confrontationally, from a close proximity, implying that we are all responsible for the planet. The movement remains upright, at times reminiscent of heroic Greek sculpture. 

Hudgins' sax plays over a recording of music from Burkina Faso (Badolo's homeland). The motifs throughout—the props/costumes, the movement, the music—delineate the contrast between a contemporary industrialized society versus a traditional one more respectful of nature. It's a simple premise, but one that needs all the exposure it can get.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

RNZB—Toward a Unique Voice

Of Days. Evan Li
RNZB (Royal New Zealand Ballet), after an especially long commute, is in town this week at the Joyce. Now led by long-time ABT principal Ethan Stiefel, a program of three dances showed the company's versatility, artistic direction, and technique. The latter was covered by Benjamin Millepied's 28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini, seen on the same stage in 2008, performed by the choreographer's own troupe. Unlike that performance, which included many familiar ballet dancers from the big New York troupes (and their accompanying associations), ABT's Gillian Murphy was the only familiar (and very welcome) face. The nine additional company members danced crisply and energetically through the well-modulated solos, duets, and groupings. Tonia Looker, in particular, seemed to capture the felicity and quicksilver nature of the music.

Of Days, choreographed by Andrew Simmons (of New Zealand) last year, is undeniably full of beauty (other than the unfortunate choice of bare legs for the women, who wore Kate Venables' pale grey, draped-top leotards and pointe shoes). But just how far can mere beauty go? In the opening tableau, the four women stood stage right, gently waving a raised arm like a tree branch. After ten minutes of tendus, deliberate backward steps, and arabesques, one section blended into the next; various tracks of new-agey music, by three composers seemingly inspired by Arvo Pärt, formed an unending sonic miasma. The dancers moved ever so carefully—apparently emotionally fragile as well—but it translated to a sense of boredom and a certain metronomic predictability. 

Clytie Campbell in Banderillero. Photo: Bill Cooper
The final work, Banderillero (2006), by Venezuelan Javier De Frutos, made an immediate impression; he also designed the boxing ring marley, ivory plunge-necked dresses for the women, and odd sheer blouses and tux-striped pants for the men (all in bare feet). A sliding step with the body tilted forward, arms swinging overhead, became a repeated motif, moving the 10 dancers into an orderly wedge, or back to the "sidelines." I sensed there was some kind of competition underway, if ballet were an Olympic sport, complete with trash talking and swagger. The soundtrack consisted of drums from Chinese opera and other sources, which at moments evoked Maori culture, as did occasional deep squats and shouts. Other movement blended ballet, martial arts, and the pedestrian. The women—Clytie Campbell in particular—were given stronger movement than the men, who on occasion whisked a woman into a high lift, or spun a partner in quarter turns as she pushed the air as if to help direct. The strange vocabulary became more vivid as the piece progressed toward a section featuring the dancers in a matrix, their lower bodies locked into place as their arms whipped and torsos spiralled. I can't tell you exactly what was going on, but it was fascinating to watch.

28 Variations establishes technical chops, and connects RNZB to the inexorable global Millepied zeitgeist in ballet now. In contrast to the numbing beauty of Simmons' dance, Banderillero creates a vivid, hermetic world with its own charismatic language—a signature work that makes a memorable impression on New York balletomanes, or at least this one. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

LeeSaar's Grass and Jackals

Photo: Yi-chun Wu
LeeSaar's Grass and Jackals leads us on a brief journey from dark to light, guided by seven mysterious, ninja-like dancers. At seven members, the company—led by Lee Sher and Saar Harari, who don't perform— is larger than ever, and in its Joyce debut, it has chosen to go bigger in all respects, notably with set elements and lighting (by the noted designer Bambi). As the weight of these production pieces increases, the reliance on the dancers' interactions seems to proportionately diminish—more beauty for perhaps a bit less soul.

But the beauty is undeniably moving. The sinewy dancers slink, crouch, stand perfectly still, and confront us repeatedly with direct gazes. Their eyebrows are painted like Groucho Marx's, hair taut in ponytails, in a highly stylized yet minimal aesthetic. As practioners of gaga, made prevalent by Ohad Naharin, they succeed more than others who work in this style, keeping quirks and superfluous additions to a minimum. Their hips move freely, legs float in extensions, knees are ever bent and loose. They lean forward on splayed knees, or in splits, examining us. Quick rabbit punches and chuffs remind us of the Israeli Army stints the two choreographers underwent before moving to New York. A certain degree of this steeliness pervades the movement and underlying kinetic drama. The soundtrack is an eclectic melange of acoustic guitar, uptempo dance, shimmering ambient, and pop tune ("Princess Crocodile," incidentally the title of LeeSaar's upcoming work at BAC.)

Photo: Yi-chun Wu
The backdrop looks like an intricately textured cutaway cliff; it is lit with varied gemstone colors. The lighting can often capture only the dancers' faces, or it can expand to suffuse the whole enterprise with sunrise gold. After a false ending, in which the seven lie in two diagonal lines, contracting slightly and collapsing again, one dancer, now in a butter-hued unitard, wafts her arms and moves with such rich intent that she appears to be underwater. Filaments begin to drip onto the stage apron, morphing from a liquid to something else, like cobwebs caught in a breeze, forming a transparent curtain wall. It is so beautiful that even after the curtain falls, the audience sits tranfixed.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Crystalline Structure and Lush Romanticism

Tanowitz's Heaven on One's Head. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu
This week brought three engaging dance premieres. Two were by Pam Tanowitz in her debut at the Joyce; the other by Liam Scarlett for NYCB. Passagen, by Tanowitz, is a short work for Maggie Cloud and Melissa Toogood that references numerous female duets that have popped up throughout Tanowitz's long-form oeuvre. The title is taken from the musical composition by John Zorn, played by violinist Pauline Kim Harris, who triangulates between three onstage music stands, and off of whom the dancers play. The duo often performs in tandem, underscoring not only their precision and awareness, but a double articulation of the fascinating shapes. Their elegant slate and brocade tunics are designed by Reid Bartelme. 

Tanowitz fully inhabits every venue her company performs at, often transforming it, and this held true for the Joyce. Heaven on One's Head was danced by nine, clad in red velvet shorts and tops (by Bartelme) that match the Joyce's proscenium curtain, which at first was raised halfway. The upstage brick wall of the Joyce's stage was exposed, its ruggedness and rectangular floating niche lit boldly by Davison Scandrett, who flooded the stage with sun-strong light and splashes of red. The four members of the FLUX Quartet sit in the pit playing Colin Noncarrow's score, from strident to pensive.
Melissa Toogood and Maggie Cloud in Tanowitz's Passagen. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Tanowitz's dancers have performed in pointe shoes in the past; here, they are barefoot, the better to firmly feel the floor and press against it. (Two members of her company—Toogood and Dylan Crossman—are Cunningham alum, and if you saw Merce's company, you've seen the world's strongest human feet, like tree roots). Ballet is the basic language, but it's accented with the angular modernism of Cunningham, as well as quirks that are often the result of recombinants, like a game of Exquisite Corpse, but with dance—a contracted torso above diamond-shaped legs, an oddly canted head, arms in low fifth behind the body rather than in front. 

We see bird-like imagery in the upright carriages, darting movements, and still poses with forced-arch feet or extended limbs. Every position is crisp and intentional, and the overall exactitude amplifies the larger, space-eating phrases to feel that much more dramatic. Tanowitz plays with the curtain legs, placing dancers half exposed, or looping onstage briefly. Late in the work, Toogood dances on a small thrust built downstage of the curtain, which lowers to show only the other dancers' busy feet. She looks toward the curtain with some wistfulness, and rejoins for the finale.

Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Scarlett's Acheron. Photo: Paul Kolnik
British choreographer Liam Scarlett's Acheron, a commission for New York City Ballet, premiered at the Koch Theater. In contrast to Tanowitz's formal, crystalline movement patterns, Acheron is more about being submerged in the impressionistic reverie of romance. An aggressive Poulenc organ line, played by Michael Hey, charges the opening atmosphere with drama and urgency; it cedes to symphonic sections, and ebbs to a softer, lustrous tone. At the start, the large group of dancers walks backward toward us; the corps is variously deployed to evoke waves sweeping across the stage, depositing one or two dancers to perform Scarlett's physical regimen of ballet. 

The women wear calf length dresses with purple bodices; the men, purple ombre cutoff tights (designed by Scarlett). Their torsos' musculature is emphasized in the many lifts that become an essential tool throughout the dance, and also underscores the high tone of romance, the equation of strength and vulnerability, of being swept off one's feet. Mark Stanley's dark lighting scheme abets the sense of mystery and impressionism. Antonio Carmena plays the lone man, free to leap and hurtle speedily across the stage, while three main pairs focus inward. There's a pliancy and airiness to Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck's lifts, and she wends around him like a sleek cat. Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia dance a section with great propulsion and forceful partnering, and Andrew Veyette curves his body protectively around Sara Adams. While Scarlett doesn't set forth any radical new structure, there is a lush fervor and muscularity to his romantic vision.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

John King: Edge of Darkness at Heskin Contemporary

Eternally Arriving, 2013, graphite and pastel on paper, 22" x 30" 
John King: Edge of Darkness runs through March 1 at Heskin Contemporary. King has long been highly skilled at rendering landscapes of the imagination featuring objects somewhat familiar, yet entirely strange. (Read about his work in the Brooklyn Rail.) The selection of 11 graphite drawings at Heskin, created over a span of years, includes some of his latest works that, more than ever, convey restlessness, movement, and an implied passage of time. Blacks are blacker than ever, nearly absorptive in their depth—sometimes smooth in surface, and in other instances, bearing marks of a human touch. 

Installation view, including the video Born Twice (Yellow), at right.
Since by now you've clicked on the Rail link above and read that John is also an esteemed gemologist, it may make complete sense that he has turned his eye on these tantalizing rocks as subject matter. (He has previously included them on occasion in his two-dimensional work.) 

Tucked around a corner in the rear of the gallery is a 3-1/2 minute video, Born Twice (Yellow), 2014, which details the evolution of a giant, 100+ carat yellow diamond, from rough stone to immaculately faceted, charted in time-lapse shots taken throughout the cutting process. In many ways, it's a time-based interpretation of what might be going on in Eternally Arriving, which collapses the advent of time. And in the case of this yellow diamond, eternity is an enthralling possibility.

For a more in-depth look at King's work, visit his website:

Heskin Contemporary is at 443 West 37th Street across from the Baryshnikov Arts Center. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Devotion 4—Aiming for Ecstasy, if Not Perfection

Rachel Berman. Photo: Paula Court
Sarah Michelson's 4 is the final installment in the four-part Devotion project, and the second in the Whitney's fourth floor gallery; other parts took were presented at the Kitchen and MoMA. Michelson's work seems to have organically burrowed into the visual art world in part because she places such an emphasis on the entire performance environment—literally every detail that might be visible to audience members becomes an element in a vast installation/performance. To an extent, every choreographer does this, but Michelson has always taken it as close as possible to her idea of perfection.

This could mean painting an entire floor and wall panels, precisely managing every lighting angle and cue, specifying the type of seating and its immediate surrounds, or flipping the orientation of a venue. There is also the movement itself, around which everything else revolves, but it is one—albeit important—part of the whole. In that sense, it approaches the  operatic, in which every element is deliberate and interlocked (with one caveat*).

On its own, 4 stands as a study of jumping moves and forward rolls, spins, endurance, and the nature of a performance itself. There are numerous variants on the jump, and each dancer has her/his own signature version: straight up, hands darting out in okay signs; legs straight out; landing on one leg in a pose, or in a squat or lunge. (The spot where most of the jumping takes place appears to be a springy mat.) The dancers do forward rolls, outlining "D" shapes or circles, often wearing sweatshirts with padding on the spine, but often without that protection. Nicole Mannarino is once again a primary figure (Holy Spirit), as she was in Devotion Study #1 which was previously in the same space; in addition to jumps, she pivots on her toes in zig zags, crossing one foot coyly. Rachel Berman, in addition to being the Narrator, is the other Holy Spirit; her vocabulary includes deep, turned out lunges with a contracted torso and shooting arms that evoke a bit of Martha Graham's dogma. The movements are not from the dance canon; they derive from daily life and playing, but they are codified precisely according to Michelson's own vision.

Photo: Paula Court
The title is subject to varied interpretation. Is it religious? The obsessive retracings of pathways do evoke walking the Chartres labyrinth, and the repetitive jumping the whirling of Dervishes. Or does devotion refer to the relationship between the choreographer and her dancers and other collaborators? Not just with Michelson, but the trust implicit in the studio during the creation of any dance? Or is it Michelson's shorthand for what's required for a life as a choreographer?

The audience sits on hassocks covered in white canvas, lined three deep along the long wall opposite the elevators. (Among a laundry list of pre-show warnings, we were ominously informed that we would be sharing a seat with someone, but mercifully that did not happen.) We were split into sections by aisles used by the dancers as staging areas, in lieu of a true offstage. Guards are stationed at the stair entrance and in front of the elevators to prevent people from entering during the performance; they become nearly immobile statues that move occasionally, and are thanked by Michelson at the beginning of the performance. 

Michelson and curator Jay Sanders sit in the gallery speaking text by playwright Richard Maxwell. (Words caught in my notes: Proust, Milton, Shelley, a whole new level of choreography in the context of history, you always go home.) Near the end, Michelson recites numbers which correspondingly (or not) appear in green LEDs on the far wall of the gallery. Their dialogue intermixes with R&B played softly, as if at a distance; late in the work, Philip Glass' In the Upper Room begins, and with it the possibility of the ecstatic. (The same music, famous from the Twyla Tharp ballet of the same name, was used at the Kitchen.) *That said, music seems to be the weakest piece. In a January interview with Gia Kourlas, she admitted that she wasn't certain what the music would be, and in the end, it seems to be primarily ambient, other than the Glass.    

Indeed, Mannarino, sweating and in the zone, after several costume changes and a good hour of work behind her, smiles genuinely for the first time. A level of formality in the house had broken down; the dancers waved and signaled at one another, as Michelson held up fingers to signify a countdown. Now and then, she picked up discarded sweatshirts. She wore sloppy looking sweatpants covered with paint stains that matched the floor—clearly a reminder that she had painted the panels in abstract patterns of largely green and earth tones. While she is implicit in everything we're seeing, her immediate presence is in our ears, on the periphery, as a custodian.

Photo: Paula Court
Thinking back on it, I don't believe the dancers ever face us as they go through their jumping routines. Most of their performance faces away from us, toward the guards on duty. A pair of black men's shoes hang on that wall as well. The performers (also including John Hoobyar, Madeline Wilcox, and James Tyson) frequently move to the far corners, where their movements include squatting on their haunches facing the wall. When they are "offstage," waiting in the aisles, they turn to face the stage area, enjoining us as part of their team. 

We're close enough to feel the heat coming off their bodies. One had an open contusion on her spine, perhaps from doing somersaults, which elicits a measure of protective sympathy. But if you think about what athletes endure while going about their jobs, and ballerinas—bloody toes and awful injuries of all sorts—what's a contusion or two but a badge of honor? Hardly a stigmata.

The dancers' costumes changed from gymnastic-style long sleeved leotards in blue, to unitards of flesh and white, to black tights, to a floral bathing suit worn by Mannarino in the finale. White pared-down Converse All-Stars are worn throughout. Their hair is teased into afros. The sporty costumes are reminders of the basketball court-like shape of the gallery, underscored when the dancers casually toss off their sweatshirts mid-stage like basketball players pulling off their sweatpants when re-entering a game. In the closing moment (after a group hug by the dancers), recalling Devotion Study #1, a man wearing a horse head takes center stage and lies down like an odalisque, signaling the end. The lighting is most beautiful when it is primarily natural, coming from the famous geometric recessed window; it is augmented by soft golden light from one corner, and a closely-spaced row of spotlights topping one long wall.

I had a mixed reaction to Devotion Study #1 I think because of an overriding empathy with the performers, and what connective tissue torture the unending backward running seemed to entail, while I admired the dancers' endurance. But I found the first part of the project, Devotion (at the Kitchen), awe-inspiring, with its complete transformation of the space, and its Olympic-level calisthenics that showed the human body's potential. 4 belongs alongside Devotion. It quotes from that earlier work in movement and music, and in the effortful ecstasy resulting from it. Michelson mentions that she would like to return to the theater setting. That time is eagerly anticipated.


Footnote: 4 (closed) coincided neatly with the Whitney exhibition Rituals of Rented Island, a survey of performance art in the 1970s. While many of those projects had a shaggy dog, ad hoc, Fluxus quality, Michelson's defines a 21st century sleekness and exactitude that has perhaps come about from the digitization of everything. The gallery in which 4 took place will house a floor of the upcoming Whitney Biennial, a moment of calm before the storm.