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Review, 6-10: 'Different Realities,' Different Dances
Schroeder Stirs up Stone Soup in the Frying Pan
By Philip W. Sandstrom
Copyright 2005 Philip W. Sandstrom
NEW YORK -- Donning
my red wristbands (to ward off seasickness), I inched my way up
the gangplank of the Frying Pan, an old revived (but not rehabilitated)
lighthouse boat. It is anchored at Pier 63 on the Hudson River at
about 24th Street. The boat floats but that's about all; it doesn't
really work (no means of locomotion). But it made an interesting
site-specific performance space for many parts of "Different Realities,"
choreographed by Laurence Schroeder, in collaboration with the dancers,
and presented by Lozone Productions on June 2.
The audience entered
the boat by descending a dark stairway, which led to a murky, cramped,
red-lit forward mechanical space. Here two female dancers, costumed
in empire gowns by Sonya, slowly hopped about the various and grimy,
bus-tire sized, multi-toothed gears. The dancers' movements, continuous
and repetitive, had a syncopated, mechanical feel, yet possessed
an uncanny sensual aura. Unable to linger in such a tiny space and
being pressured by the continual flow of the crowd from behind (also
descending the steps), the audience flowed onward into an anteroom,
where a small table of fruit was offered up to those close enough
to it and to those who didn't mind the claustrophobic squeeze being
applied by the seemingly unending physical pressure caused by the
influx of more audience. Soon there was no room to move, the audience
completely filling the anteroom. This was not for the faint of heart,
let alone the claustrophobic.
Toward the front the
crowd was confronted by a small doorway, through which a kind of
audience handler appeared to be leading blindfolded people, one
by one, into the next room. After squeezing and shoving forward,
past the fruit-munchers, I was blindfolded and led into the next
stage of the performance, where my hands where dipped in water and
played across the strings of an old damp mop (yum, cool and squishy).
Once I was properly acclimatized to the new damp and dripping environs
the blindfold was removed and I gazed upon a Lautrec-sized crazy
man with an umbrella, who blocked my progression to the next room
while spraying me with water. On my left, a naked man, trapped in
a small room and illuminated by a single clip light, moved like
a gymnast on the horse, swinging his body in and around some of
the central infrastructure of the boat. I had the feeling of being
trapped in a movie about a 19th-century insane asylum. After being
sufficiently baptized by Lautrec, I was allowed to continue to the
next station, passing through a small room where green kool-aid
sat in glasses upon a table. Being thirsty, I took one and sipped
I continued on, with
other dampened audience members, into the most forward compartment
of the boat. At this point, the fun-house feeling of this adventure
started to dissipate. This new space was previously a crew lounge,
surrounded by four stark and dingy rooms with single bunks and sinks,
each lit by a single blue clip light. In the lounge, a man recited
poetry in a variety of languages while cheerful and attentive audience
members lounged around a circular table on a semi-circular banquette
and in various armchairs placed near the table. This space was a
welcome respite from the initial crowd crunch and the water assault.
The chairs were comfy; too bad they weren't serving better drinks.
Occasionally a female dancer pranced through the lounge and perched
herself upon the uppermost regions of the back of the banquette.
So far so good: pressure, insanity, then release.
Next we were led into
a room encumbered by a maze of string, dimly lit by a clear clip
light at the entrance and a black light near the exit stairway.
This string room was guarded by a male dancer in a Buddhist monk-like
costume with bare shoulders, spinning about and careening off the
web of string fastened from floor to ceiling, like a trapped ping-pong
ball. By now the weathered audience was capable of interacting with
their environment. They spread the strings with their own bare hands
and ventured forth through this maze, past another glimpse of the
naked gymnast from the other side of his room (we'd made a u-turn
around the man), and down the stairs into the bowels of the ship.
Once the audience was
settled in this lowest and largest chamber, the final and by far
the longest section of the performance began. The room was ringed
by boiler room equipment on one end, a slightly raised balcony with
some seating in front of the lighting and sound control room on
the other end, and assorted ledges on the other two sides which
also served as seating. The performers danced in the center of the
room in bare feet on a cold and rusty metal floor. This final section
began with a solo by a man costumed in a skirt with a naked torso,
performing a mixture of martial arts and mime. His movement often
changed levels from standing to floor work, accompanied by "trippy"
music and the subtle smell of pot. (I kid you not.) He finished,
dramatically, with an upright fist, at the end of the music. Just
then, more audience members trickled in. The next section began
with a couple entering from one of two corner doorways hidden in
the shadows. This male/female duet consisted of tenuous dancing
back and forth through the center of the space. A second couple
joined the mix and then the first couple exited. As the spacey music
returned, so did the first couple, followed by a fifth (female)
dancer. At the same time, additional audience was crammed into the
chamber. To my dismay and annoyance, one female viewer began photographing
the performance in flash mode. She didn't appear to be a plant,
just some vegetable-headed event-hopping dough-head who knew no
bounds. The flashes ruined any sense of ritual, sensuality, and
structure that struggled to be formed.
The dance gradually
shifted into an unfortunate contact improv netherworld of movement
exchanges (accompanied by more photo flashes from the dough-head
and at least one other audience member). Finally the agonizing improv
ceased, the amateur photographer ceased, and the movement increased
in intensity. Just as the structure was reforming, and the sensuality
was reinstated, three of the dancers abruptly exited, loudly slamming
their hidden doors. A lone couple remained to dance slowly to bells
and twangy guitar, played live by the sound designer, Brian O'Nell.
Darkness soon covered
the stage. Then, in eerie orange lighting designed by Nena Sierra,
a man appeared to serve grapes to the audience and a ballerina was
slowly lowered from the ceiling. Earlier in this final section,
she could be seen moving slowly, high above the stage, in the naked
man's central room (he left), which wasn't a room at all, merely
beams and rafters of metal which holds the boat together. I also
should mention that up to this point, some psychedelic-like images
were being projected on a small, single-bed sized sheet hung behind
and above over one section of the audience. Now that screen displayed
an overdone '50s prom queen complete with an extravagant beehive
hairdo topped with a tiara, dressed in an immense floor-length satin
gown. Perhaps this projected character was a double for the ballerina?
The stage lighting then
shifted to pale blue as, in silence, the company entered dispersing
feathers. As a piano dirge began, the ballerina became an object
of group and grope attention. After some abuse, she was propelled
into a corner by the group, and spotted with a pink light, the six
other dancers then romping to accordion tango music in an apparent
homage to the "queen of the prom," the ballerina.
To end the scene, the
projections on the screen quickly shifted to yellow and purple ganglion-like
moving images as the company exited, leaving the ballerina and another
woman together in a frantic duet possessing intriguing sensual overtones
that was quickly reduced to the tedious slow noodling witnessed
earlier in this section.
Suddenly the music shifted
to a Schoenberg-like abstract dissonance, which accompanied three
women, soon joined by two men who aggressive lifted and carried
them, mimicking the Nicolas Poussin painting "The Rape of the Sabine
Women." Eventually, one woman was "chosen" to be hoisted up a ledge
which bordered a piece of boiler machinery ominously labelled "high
voltage"; a sacrifice? While two couples continued to dance, the
chosen one exited slowly to heavy heaving vocal utterances.
The melange of dancers
and cacophony continued to build, with performers climbing through
the audience and capoeira encounters between the male cast members.
Again, the feeling of an improv pervaded, as percussive sounds provided
live by the composer beating on a hand-muted guitar drove the frenzy.
All the while the psychedelic projections began anew. It was too
much stuff; it became impossible to tell what was going on and why
it was going on. Finally, with the men fighting each other and the
women piling on top like a free for all, someone's skirt fell to
the floor and the lights went out. What a relief!
The 'different realities'
reflected in the first few encounters preceding the large group
dance in the main chamber were interesting, engaging, and encouraging.
The sensory experiences, referenced in the advance material as part
of the concept, are clear. This first section in no way presaged
the second section, the group piece. It was like attending two distinct
shows, two different events. While the group section suffered from
too much of the same thing and left you wanting a lot less, the
first section, the encounters, provided just enough content to leave
you longing for more.
Laurence Schroeder performs June 21 in Paris as part of the Fete de la Musique.
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