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Women on the Verge, 2: Facing Effacing
Shick, Screened and Unscreened

By Nancy Dalva
Copyright 2003 Nancy Dalva

NEW YORK -- Vicky Shick is such a modest and reticent performer and choreographer that she does everything in her power, which is considerable, to disappear herself from the very stage on which she sets her work. Her new dance "Undoing," first performed on March 4 and 5 at Dance Theatre Workshop (to be repeated on March 13, 14, 22 and 23), makes you feel as if you are spying on her, and on her four lovely female dancers, glimpsing this and that through lamp-lit windows. This voyeuristic sensation recalls Trisha Brown, who made a solo called "If You Couldn't See Me" some time after the six excellent years Schick spent in her company. (Incidentally but interestingly, another former Brown dancer, Stephen Petronio, otherwise a very different kind of choreographer and a totally different kind of dancer from Schick, evoked that same voyeuristic mood in his recent "City of Twist." ) "Undoing" is elliptical, calligraphic, elegant, and unreadable, yet narrative. Imagine opening a book to find almost all the words erased -- here and there an adverb, a noun, an indefinite article -- and the pages out of order. That would be "Undoing."

The women -- the choreographer and Juliette Mapp, Jodi Melnick, Eileen Thomas, and Meg Wolfe -- are dressed by the visual artist Barbara Kirkpatrick in pretty, contemporary beige-ish versions of street clothes, with an addition, in two segments of the dance, of an outre white coat and train that appear to be fashioned out of cellophane garbage bags. At the right, a gossamer white gown is suspended from the ceiling. Underneath, on a platform, is a large white bowl that -- once carried on -- is never used. (You might decide that the dress is hanging up to dry after being washed in the bowl, but you'd be making it up on slight evidence. ) In addition to two low platforms underneath these items, the set consists of several moveable screens on wheels -- they appear to be coat racks with muslin stretched and gathered on them, like curtains. These not merely suggest but create the actuality of things hidden and concealed, as the dancers move then here and there. At one point, they line the screens up one behind the other, and dance between them, hidden. Then they step out to the left, in unison, mid-phrase, and there's slight laughter in the house. (What a subtle joke! You can see them!) Throughout, there are snatches of silence and of music heard the same way you might hear music from outside, drifting in to you.

Even when dancing in front of the screens, the women seem secretive, as if dancing at home, behind windows with the curtains closed. Occasionally, they step out into the light, and the screens recede. The movement proceeds in random seeming fragments, like excerpts. After a time printed phrases begin to appear sequentially on the dark backdrop. These enhance the suggestion of missing narrative, but they don't enhance interpretation. Rather, they erase the reassuring arc of continuous time. "Earlier that day," reads one. "Six months from now," says another. "Three weeks ago," says a third.

A sparing but creaturely femininity; a deep but self-abnegating glamour: these remain, enacted in meticulous kinesthetic minutiae, evocative, focused, intentional, and slight. An elbow bends. A knee is raised. An overgarment is removed from one person by another. A dancer lies down, rolls over. In solo, the women are inward. In duet, they are attentive to each other, yet self contained, the way you might imagine nuns in a cloister. (They don't really need us, do they?) And so we'll never know what "Undoing" is about, any more than we'll know what the neighbors are thinking as they live their lives with the shades half up. We could guess, of course, but watching is enough, and then some. Isn't it?

Nancy Dalva is the senior writer for 2wice.


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