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1, 5-9: Mayhem
Martha Clarke is in the Haus
By Faith Pilger
Copyright 2002 Faith Pilger
"The world today, like the world
at the beginning of the last century, is on the verge of coming apart. I see civilization
sleepwalking to the edge of doom, then and now..., of shattering into a thousand
nightmares, of sinking into a deep and inconsolable grief, of falling into global
-- Charles L. Mee
NEW YORK -- Take a deep breath and
fill up your lungs to capacity. Then hold it and feel your throat stiffen, feel
the quickening of your heart, the thickening of your blood. This state of expectation
is comparable to the atmosphere created in the New York Theater Workshop for "Vienna
Lusthaus (revisited)," which opened last night and was seen earlier this week.
This production was originally conceived and produced by Martha Clarke in 1986
(and subsequently toured nationally in 1997) but is revisited in 2002 as a collaboration
between choreographer/director Clarke and music director Richard Peaslee, with
text by Charles L. Mee.
The desolate interior landscape
of this production is created through minimalist tools. The performers inhabit
the interior of an empty white room, walls slanting outward to suggest an uneasy
fragility. A gauzy white scrim separates and protects their world from ours throughout.
The scrim also helps to evoke a seamlessly dreamlike atmosphere. It is early 20th
Century Vienna and the characters are distant, serene -- almost lifeless. Thirty-two
small vignettes or scenes take us through an absurd amount of stories and images,
disconnected but related by somewhat consistent characters and movement themes.
Some of these scenes drew me into their microconsciousness with their obsession
with sexuality, love, ice skating, horses, death.... Other images seemed so self-serious
that I was hyper aware of the English accents and the stiffness of the nude bodies
entwined on the floor feigning copulation.
The program tells us that this work
is an exploration of the unconscious world of turn-of-the-century Vienna, where
Freud met fascism. And that it is inspired in part by paintings of Egon Schiele
and Gustav Klimt. But these painters express a passion that never seemed to grace
the stage in Clark's 'Lusthaus.' Even while the women's and men's bodies were
beautiful, the nudity felt more clinical. And the bodies never once lost control.
This was a world where everything was in its place and the rules went unbroken.
This was a world that felt only one emotion. And even with countless musicians
gracing the stage, playing beautiful pieces in a mostly classical vein, the most
memorable sound was silence; a cloudy, stark, silent journey through letters and
diaries, dreams and analysis... a cerebral, colorless formality that I found very
Apparently some of the text was
taken from or inspired by the casebooks of Sigmund Freud, letters and diaries
of the Imperial Family and numerous individuals from the period. These were influential
in Mee's collaboration with Tom Damrauer to create monologues and conversations
interruped and connected by Clarke's movement and images as well as music played
offstage and on. All perfomers -- actors, dancers and musicians -- were technically
flawless and even evoked that historic sense of physical preservation. But with
such a similar temperament throughout, certain images appeared more powerful:
a father allowing his daughter to "get wet" in the public fountain (told by Richmond
Hoxie), Erica Berg as the stiff and playful doll in the arms of a dirty-minded
Andrew Robinson, Philip Gardner as a naked, frozen outcast amidst joyfull iceskaters
in the "Winter Sequence," the dysfunctional relationship between Arthur and his
Mother (Elzbieta Czyzewska and Hoxie), Erica Berg and Jimena Paz's naked bodies
rolling on/with pillows, the confrontation with a large rat in his own home (many
of us New Yorkers can unfortunately relate) as told by Hoxie, the story of a man
ravishing a small girl in a hallway, followed by a brilliantly creepy solo in
which Robinson, with small boots on hands, evokes twisted images of this event,
human horses performing tricks and (my personal morbid favorite) "Rigor Mortis"
in which a dead man asks dry, scientific questions of another man sitting on a
bench.....who seems to have all the right answers (Denis O'Hare and Hoxie.)
Martha Clarke, who was an early
member of Pilobolus, has proven for years her choreographic ability and originality.
This endeavor is no exception, even when she is billed as Director and weaves
such small phrases of movement into an abundance of text. Charles L. Mee is also
responsible for the popular productions "Big Love" (at the Brooklyn Academy of
Music last year), "First Love" (opening the last season at NYTW) and "True Love"
(the first production, last year, at a new midtown theater, the Zipper.) I was
fortunate enough to see "True Love," also an ecclectic, multi-media production,
and in comparison, I find myself making a mental note: As with many European films,
which are stronger in imagery than in action, in "Vienna Lusthaus" there is less
focus on entertainment and more on psychological depth. For example, one can compare
the experience of this production more aptly to visiting a museum or gallery of
written and visual work, than to a variety show or circus. Both have many short
episodes or separate ideas, but the tone is entirely different. In "True Love,"
there was a similar structure of episodic monologues and music (no dance), but
the rock 'n roll style was much more present and, dare I say, American.
I realize in retrospect that I had
personally expected from Vienna Lusthaus a more "entertaining" production and
found it difficult at times to maintain focus. It was as if I had hoped to visit
a crowded and bawdy pool hall in the entertainment district and ended up at the
opera house. However, I still found "Vienna Lusthaus" a powerful and intriguing
production and well worth a visit before it finishes its run.
Faith Pilger is a graduate of the
Juilliard School and 1994 winner of the Princess Grace Award in the field of Modern
Dance. She has been employed by various choreographers and companies as a freelance
dancer, including: Mark Morris Dance Group, The Metropolitan Opera Ballet, PerksDanceMusicTheater,
Chase Dance Theater, Joe Alter Dance Group and Pilobolus Dance Theater. She hosts,
curates and performs in the Vim Variety Show at Surf Reality on the LES (Next
shows May 31 and June 7.) She will also appear for the first time this August
in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Visit her at www.pilger.com/faith.
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