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Flash Review, 9-5: Bedtime Stories
Ruckert Plays with the Audience

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- Some might accuse Dance Theater Workshop of being the de facto clubhouse for downtown dance. True or not, in the case of Cie Felix Ruckert's "Deluxe Joy Pilot," co-presented by DTW and the Joyce Theater, the stage was literally transformed into a nightclub, peppered with a handful of 'beds' -- cushioned, raised platforms where audience members open to participating in the performance stationed themselves. The rest of us stick-in-the-muds sat on translucent blue inflatable chairs and ottomans (prone to leaks and squeaks), or on the floor, forming a circle. Partitions hid the regular seating, which went unused; white panels made a makeshift drop ceiling and contributed to the cocoon-like atmosphere.

The action, seen September 3, began benignly enough, with a couple of dancers spinning on softly bent legs, moving through martial artsy poses spaced by stillness. Company members attended each bed-goer, clasping their hands, massaging their necks, or manipulating their legs gently; each pair soon formed a unit reminiscent of an Aztec stone sculpture (the one supposedly used for human sacrifices), but with two heads. Occasionally, the dancers chose one audience member to perform more elaborate exercises.

The audience participation elements spoke of the dangers and joys of implicitly trusting strangers, of intimacy, of building relationships, and of the essential decency of people once a certain level of familiarity is reached. They also revealed how we are always performing on some level, and how some people get a kick out of it way more than others. One very Republican-looking man was completely into it, even more so when his two male company companions stripped off their shirts, donned wool caps, and swooped their hands and faces within millimeters of the man's body. Whether he moved toward them magnetically by reflex or on purpose is moot -- he seemed to yearn for their contact. The high level of trust and faith the audience participants placed on their partners consistently surprised.

As the score built in pace and volume, the action grew increasingly fervent. The bed attendants hovered over their prostrate charges, then appeared to assault them orgiastically. Two trios centerstage wrestled with similar aggression. The feverish scene gave way to whisperings and a single hot spotlight focused on two men who pressed their mouths together. It was not what it first seemed to be -- a kiss -- but the start of a violent alpha dog competition; the men were blowing air into each other's mouths to see who could last the longest.

Besides all the audience interaction, "Deluxe Joy Pilot" contained plenty of dance. Berlin-based Ruckert, who performed with Pina Bausch for a number of years, by necessity has chosen good actors with varied, interesting looks. The movement, which changed subtly throughout the piece, at times brought to mind sequences built on contact improvisation -- weight bearing by partners, groups collapsing (mostly gently) in heaps, beginnings of gestures which flew out into space. Frequently, the action looked borderline uncontrollable, especially when performed by Matthieu Burner. The final segment led off with the riveting Catherine Jodoin performing a solo of concentrated, elongated movement, her fingertips trembling with focused energy. Despite their significant size difference, Burner walked up her spine, starting an intense power struggle that approached the psychopathic. They crashed about the stage, somehow avoiding seriously bashing into any audience members. The end came when stagehands brought out additional inflatable ottomans and the dancers began to chat with audience members, cocktail party style -- interaction on a more prosaic level.

Christian Meyer's impressive, varied score accompanied the piece, and ranged from subdued sound textures to film noir symphonic. Ruckert and Bruno Pocheron designed the brilliant lighting, which emerged from behind us to make our chairs look like big tacky gemstones.

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