Archive for September, 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

By Merilyn Jackson

A huge, hexagonal, cagelike structure that reached to the ceiling commanded the space inside Pier 9 on Friday night for the premiere of The Gate Reopened by choreographer Brian Sanders’ company, Junk. Surrounding it was a packed audience.

As Sanders’ eight muscular performers — six men and two women — emerged, fleetly circling the Gate’s base to the wild cheers of the crowd, I couldn’t help but see them as gladiators. Instead of fighting each other, they fought height and gravity, calculating risk as they swung on bungees or launched themselves like simians against the chain-link fencing, which they gripped only by their fingertips and the J-hooks on their boots.

Sanders’ work is always thrilling, inventive, daring, ingenious and very witty. It was gratifying to see him have a free hand with a good budget for the set and the Pedro Silva/Conrad Bender lighting design. The men — Connor Senning, Gunnar Clark, Teddy Fatscher, John Luna, Billy Robinson, and Tommy Schimmel — and the women, Jerrica Blankenship and Tamar Gutherz, were all topless, so the low lighting was perhaps to cast them in shadow.

Blankenship and Gutherz performed daredevil feats on a swinging ladder. Robinson took a big leap from the top into a watery canvas, only to be caught up in a sheet of plastic and then writhe his way out again. A mist sprayed them all in the final moments, catching the light magically and casting a mystical cloud over the scene. This was one of those performances where the line between dancer and athlete was blurred, if not obliterated. Indeed, the crowd strolled out into the fine evening in high spirits, as if we’d just been to a sporting event.

I enjoyed seeing how far the Polish dancers have come into the world of Western contemporary dance. From their concert, I’d say they are now in various stages from the 60s to the 80s when contemporary dance first began to trickle into Poland. But you must eat all of the banquet if you are ever to digest its meaning. And these three have a good appetite for it.


My review of their Sept. 15 2012 concert:

Three Polish dancers made their American debuts Friday evening at the modest Mascher Space up on Cecil B. Moore Ave. Though their paths have crossed in Poland and two have worked with each other in the past, their movement esthetics diverge except for the fact that each uses sound/music very minimally, if at all.  Izabela Chlewińska lives and works in Warsaw, but has also performed in Germany, Mexico and Japan. In a doll-like little white dress, she writes out the story of her concept on an easel filled with large sheets of paper. She takes us to the land of Tralfamadoria, a riff on Kurt Vonnegut’s work (which was very popular in Poland) in that her work is non-linear, episodic and elliptical. It’s when she strips to her body stocking that we see what an original mover, even a contortionist, she is. In the Zoo section, she takes to the floor in an exquisitely high back-bend, head facing us and scuttles crab-like from side to side. She strikes sharply angled poses, bent-elbowed arms splayed out along her body while her chest and torso rise pointing to the ceiling or lies on her side like an odalisque or such as you might see when a leopard is in repose. Finally, she dedicates the dance to her father. But why? Did he introduce her to Tralfamadoria? Is this a remnant of a childhood memory lived just before the bizarre life lived under Communism dissolved? Maybe nothing of the sort, but I love works that raise more questions than they can answer.

Marysia Stokłosa’s Vacuum didn’t spare us from questions either. Wielding a vintage Electrolux canister vac (I had a similar one for many years), she literally swept the entire large space with it, criss-crossing from right to left, even insinuating it under the feet of the people in the front row. She re-covered the entire space from front to back running in reverse, so I thought, probably incongruously, of a warp and weft imaginary weaving of the space into one large fabric for her to dance upon. Lest you think this sounds too serious, Stokłosa disappears into a side restroom and runs the shower returning to us in a bathing suit the same vintage as the vacuum cleaner, and sopping wet, belly flops on the floor, flinging and flopping like a fish out of water. To Chopin, she dries her hair with the vacuum. Hah! Is she saying it’s time for Poland to wash that fusty romantic self-image away? I hope so, but that’s just me.

Each dance seemed born of a big idea realized with an economy of movement and a great take-it-or-leave-it confidence including the final work, Le Pas Jacques. By Magda Jędra, who is co-founder of Good Girl Killer in Gdansk, she starts with both feet planted on the floor while she scoops and swoops the air with her arms. She pulls a Babci shawl from a nearby paper bag and ties her ankles together with it, her wrists with another piece of clothing and then bruisingly jumps around, falling often until she loosens her bonds. I had to leave for another show so I regrettably couldn’t stay to see the rest. But I ran into her at the supermarket today and she had cabbages in her cart for tonight’s show. So, Kapusta anyone?

$15 Mascher Space, 155 Cecil B. Moore Ave. tonight and Sunday night, 8 p.m.

This morning I lost one of my dearest friends and most important musical role models, and the world lost one of its best composers. Bill Duckworth was diagnosed with pancreas cancer a year ago last February. He got into a state-of-the-art therapy program, and had the disease in remission, and for quite a few months it looked like he was going to beat one of the fastest and most lethal cancers there is (and the same one that killed Morton Feldman). But he finally started having bad reactions to the chemo, and it wore him down. I had heard about a week ago that he had decided to go off chemo, and he went fast after that, slipping away about midnight last night, according to his wife Nora, who called this morning.

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