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Flash Review, 1-25: Words get in the Way
Near-zero Visibility for Metamorphomess

By Philip W. Sandstrom
Copyright 2006 Philip W. Sandstrom

NEW YORK -- "...It's only a rehearsal," a dance choreographed by Ina Christel Johannessen and performed by the Zero Visibility Corp. at P.S. 122 last month, appeared to represent the timeless struggle between the sexes set upon a shiny silver metal floor; it was billed as "a story of love and revenge inspired by Ovid's 'Metamorphoses.'" Perhaps, if you could follow it.

The performance opened with a long solo by Dmitri Jourde that had the appearance of Twyla Tharp-meets-breaking-and-popping. This man can move! As Line Tormoen looked on, Jourde covered the floor with incredibly smooth gliding motions, which appeared to emanate from his hips, enhanced by elegant and organic arm popping.

After waiting her turn in what seemed to be like a contest, Tormoen, a lean dancer with precise control and capable of remarkably loose hip swings, briefly soloed, which lead into a unison duet. As the music, by Murcof, increased in intensity while the beat became pronounced, this duet digressed into aggressive partnering until the pair hit the floor together and quickly separated, like wrestlers who break at the whistle.

The music shifted into a driving combination of percussive beats and violin attacks, as the dancers began sparring in a series of physical attacks and retreats evoking a boxing match. Was this an expression of love and passion or of struggle and confrontation? The distinction appeared to be intentionally obscured. And why did both performers gnaw on their digits? The struggle ceased and a major shift occurred, as if we had reached a pause in the action or a break in the story-line. Tormoen stood and grinned at the audience almost glaring though her stark pale blue eyes while Jourde played the fool, bowing profusely and grotesquely to the audience as if mockingly currying favor from an ogre. This fake comedy seemed planned to induce the uncomfortable laughter that it produced in the audience and between the performers. These incongruent actions were followed by an uncomfortably long pause -- or perhaps it was a reflective moment?

Finally, the music began anew, and the duo resumed fighting. Boxing gave way to wrestling as Jourde applied a full Nelson to Tormoen before trying to take her by force, attempts she rejected. But then the couple locked in a mouth-to-mouth kiss that carried them around the stage like an instruction session in vertical mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. At long last they briefly came up for air, allowing Tormoen to recite some text from Ovid. The endless kiss resumed where it left off and they continued around the perimeter of the stage.

After the lip-lock subsided, Tormoen soloed like Ophelia in the mad scene; she appeared to be fending off an imaginary enemy or to be possessed by an evil spirit accompanied by mysterious howling sounds, deep bass tones, and plucked strings (all produced by the composer, Murcof) while Jourde gazed upon her from afar. Abruptly, the music stopped, leaving Tormoen frozen, looking like a terror-stricken statue. Was this meant to be Artemis noticing Actaeon spying upon her?

Disjointedly, Tormoen's frenzy was followed by a Pilobolus-like duet in which she hung on Jourde in a variety of gymnastic and near-impossible positions in some impressive partnering. Had the characters finally connected? Had they "hooked up"?

What had transpired, I understood in retrospect, was the tale of Artemis and Actaeon, as viewed by Ovid, in dance form. Although not delineated in the program, this seemed to indicate the end of the first section of the performance in that what followed was markedly different in substance.

Let me pause at this point to explain that the silver stage floor I noted above was not merely decorative, but an integral part of designer Jens Sethzman's lighting scheme. The reflective quality of this particular floor allowed Sethzman to use the direction of the light to great effect. Although most of the performance was lit only from the stage left side by a long row of lights hung from the ceiling off-left, the light that bounced from and off of the floor filled in the shadows created by such a radical one-sided approach. The effect produced a strong directional feeling, yet this bounced light lent a soft quality to the appearance of the stage and the performers. Occasionally, throughout the dance, Sethzman employed the same effect from the stage right side with many fewer lights; the effect was similar yet more intimate and contained. It was quite an exceptional job.

Back to the action: At the end of the Pilobolus-like duet, there was a pause, while Tormoen opened the upstage curtain, revealing a stuffed stag in front of a forest painted on a backdrop. She then recited aspects of Ovid's tale in English, after which Jourde interpreted the tale in French. He embellished his version with explicit and Vaudevillian gestures, pantomime, and kung-fu-like movement that was funny but stupid.

The finale was a dance coda of sorts, certainly an add-on and not a recapitulation. In this context and in this sequence of events the coda did not make sense. Nonetheless it was an impressive display of Jourde's hip-hop talents but this time, unlike in the beginning, he was followed by a remarkable solo by Tormoen distinguished by a superb rendition of Trisha Brown--type noodling. It was indeed an ending out of nowhere for a dance with a coda out of nowhere.

Tormoen and Jourde are dynamic performers, with exceptional talent, but on the whole the evening was a non-sequitur. It's not that linear is the be all and end all, it's just that if the creator/choreographer begins in a linear fashion and leads on that the idea is linear then the plot has an obligation to be clear. Tormoen's recital of her broken-English version of Ovid's tale came out of nowhere and harmed as much as it helped to clarify the story, adding little closure for the Anglophones. To compound the confusion, Jourde's French farce was so overdone that it bordered on a Simpsons version delivered in Gallic.

Next time I'd say skip the entire text section. Johannessen's choreographed version of the Ovid tale, upon post-show reflection, told a more coherent and endearing story than anything the overdone jabbering could hope to provide. Perhaps the Zero Visibility Corp. could simply attach the "coda" to the end of the Pilobolus-like duet and be done with it. By eliminating the text and mime the performance would have provided a more cohesive experience and one iin which the audience could deftly compare Ovid's tale with the choreography after the show, with a beer or wine in hand at the nearest neighborhood tavern.

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