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Flash 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 carefully.

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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