Tuesday, December 5, 2023

New York Notebook, Dec 2023

adaku, part 1: the road opens. Photo: Tony Turner

adaku, part 1: the road opens
BAM Next Wave Festival, BAM Fisher

In murky light, seven clustered women tread a circle, shuffling and hopping, at times chanting, grunting and singing. This begins while the Fisher audience for adaku is seated, and basically continues for 75 minutes, with shifts in step patterns and pull-out dramatic scenes. This continuous human orbit is the work’s backbone—a nod to the endless grind of daily life, the need to keep pushing, even a literal metaphor for the passing of time. The hypnotic repetition mesmerizes, puzzles, and bores, but it rarely flags. At some point, the women punctuate their circles with contractions and shoulder thrusts. Slight variations between each one’s technique provide interest. 

A drama emerges—a carving commissioned on the occasion of her impending second marriage (this time, to a woman) is causing Okwui Okpakwasili nightmares. They begin to come true; children are disappearing. Her daughter witnessed the creation of the carving by Audrey Hailes—poetically enacted by lights swung in arcs, leaving glowing trails. Okpakwasili, the village leader and a powerful presence, in anger threatens Hailes for conjuring evil; her daughter suggest compromising and destroying the cursed carving. While carrying out this task in the wooded edges of town, the daughter disappears, leaving her mother swooning in grief.

Samita Sinha, Okwui Okpokwasili, mayfield brooks. Photo: Tony Turner
The vague story unspools in Okpakwasili’s songs and chant, driven by a constant beat and textured sound by Peter Born. The set, also by Born, comprises two small overhead lamps, a bar of light, and a large, pink, plexi, bisected disc—the sun, or a screen to receive video. There’s friction between the clean, modern set elements and the pre-colonial village setting. Behind the action hangs a crumpled, silver, mylar cyc, which in the finale, the dancers pull downstage and air out in the darkness, creating the convincing sound of a deluge.

adaku engages all the senses to sketch out the elusive narrative. The power of the work lies in the hypnotic physical repetition and endurance for which Okpakwasili is known; the close physical interactions between the women, who move as one much of the time; and evoking a distant era and place while expanding time.

Rite of Spring/common ground(s)
Dance Reflections, Park Avenue Armory

Rite of Spring. Photo: Stephanie Berger

I saw Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring the next night at the Armory, performed by dancers from 14 African nations. Two days before, it might have epitomized works with physically demanding steps utilizing repetition to great effect. After seeing adaku, Rite nearly felt much tamer on the endurance scale. It is danced on plushy-looking dirt (which no doubt is far more difficult than it looks, what with sliding and uneven surfaces and, well, dirt!) by a large company of women and men dancing a breadth of tempos and dynamics in bursts; the ensemble sections thrill. Of course there are spans of convulsions, flinging limbs, jumps, and falls, but they are over quickly.

Rite of Spring. Photo: Stephanie Berger

The identification and sacrifice of the One is predictably dramatic, if no surprise. In the most poignant scene, the women cram together upstage, and each in turn springs from the group, takes the red dress, and walks toward us warily, bearing captivating expressions of fear, curiosity, resignation, etc. The ensemble sections enthrall, with plunging pliés, side-whipping Pina arms, and dirt kicked brusquely. The dancers were assembled for this project, so naturally they don’t have the deep connections of Tanztheater Wuppertal, nor the distinct characters that repeat viewers have adored over the years. The men here are technically excellent—perhaps a little too, mechanically jumping their maximum and hitting the beats early.

But seeing Pina’s work is a rare treat, even if it’s not at BAM, her (nearly) forever New York home until now. Tanztheater Wuppertal performed Rite at BAM in 2017 on a program with Café Müller—a satisfying balance of Bausch’s visceral and socially captivating milieus. At the Armory, Rite was preceded by common ground(s), a duet by Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo. Acogny founded Ecole des Sables in Senegal, which worked with the Pina Bausch Foundation and Sadler’s Wells to stage this Rite, part of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Dance Reflections festival.

Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo in common ground(s). Photo: Stephanie Berger

Since Rite is about half an hour long, it should logically be presented with another work to make an evening. Acogny (79) created the work with Airaudo (75), who danced with Pina for many years, along the way performing the role of the One in Rite several times. Unfortunately, the Armory is not the ideal venue for this intimate, subtle work that emphasizes arm work, soft caresses, and contemplation. (Ironically, it would probably look great at the cozy BAM Fisher.) They speak at one point, but it was barely audible without mics. I did hear, “Thinking about Pina,” but I wonder why they bothered with lines if the audience was kept out. There is value in seeing aging dancers move (I mean, Merce!) but this needs some shaping and a better venue. Nonetheless, the pre-Rite buzz and ceremoniousness of the Drill Hall added some ritual excitement that carried through the entire program.

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