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Flash Review, 5-26: Saintly Feast
A Marriage of the Saints & One More Virgin from Williams
Copyright 2006 Gus Solomons jr
NEW YORK -- There's
no doubt that Christopher Williams has a major theatrical imagination.
In his season at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church last weekend,
he staged the premiere of "The Portuguese Suite" and a hybrid piece
that combined portraits of two female saints (Barbara and Lucy)
excerpted from "Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins" (2005) with those
of three male saints (Christopher, James the Greater, and Anthony
Abbot) from the work in progress "The Golden Legend," which, when
completed, will feature 15 male saints.
Whether it's Chris Elam
-- who, like Williams, is as flexible as a pretzel -- portraying
Saint Christopher as a giant, pink-eared white mouse, or Nami Yamamoto
as Saint Barbara, pitching herself headlong into a barricade of
bare-chested men in black skirts, or Aaron Mattocks in black pantyhose
as Saint James the Greater, leaping and lunging amongst seven animated,
squatting heaps, Williams, a Douglas Dunn alumnus who now dances
with Tere O'Connor, finds consistently interesting gestural choices
and elicits from his performers the same hell-bent riskiness that
makes his own dancing so riveting.
Much of the movement
is standard modern and ballet vocabulary, but marvelously distorted
to look like things you've never seen before: an arabesque with
the ribs jutted laterally; a passé with torso hooked into
a question mark; an assemblé with a devilish twitch in midair.
Williams uses his excellent chorus as living props to complement
the central figures, and they take to their relatively unglamorous
tasks with gusto. The group includes women Rebecca Serrell, Omagbitse
Omagbemi, Derry Swan, Darla Villani, and men Clay Drinko, Marcelo
Rueda, Sydney Skybetter, Luke Wiley, and Ryuji Yamaguchi.
Using original music
by Peter Kirn or 13th-century English music, sung live by a fine
ensemble in the church balcony, Williams creates a fantastical,
Hieronymus Bosch-like world, where Saint Lucy (powerfully danced
by Janet Charleston), in a green, brocaded robe and leather harness
gazes heavenward, while the pack of men surround and finally tether
her with her own long blond braids and Saint Anthony Abbot (John
Kelly, dancing with lithe elegance, passion, and weight) battles
five demon puppets (created by Williams and Eric Wright), manipulated
by a Bunraki-style chorus of hooded women in crimson cassocks (Yamamoto,
Lake Simons, Takemi Kitamura, Kate Brehm, and Yoko Myoi).
Working with medieval
hagiographic consultant Professor Thomas Head, Williams has obviously
done extensive research into his subject matter. Even if, like me,
you know virtually nothing about the lives of the saints, you sense
that his visual images clearly seem derived from historical details,
inventively translated into uniquely vivid movement.
The early music, researched
by Susan Hellauer, and performed by Lawrence Lipnik, Michael Ryan-Wenger,
Kurt-Owen Richards, John Olud, Judith Davidoff, Jacquenline Horner,
and Hellauer, richly imagined, whimsical costumes by Michael Oberle
and Williams, and superbly modulated dramatic lighting by Carol
Mullins create a palpable sense of ancient time and place.
The premiere, "The Portuguese
Suite," set to nine recorded fado and other Portuguese songs, captures
the cultural phenomenon of reveling in misery. Seven mourning women
wail and moan and writhe as if in deep agony, though their faces
remain passive. Each of the women dwells in a peak-roofed cubicle
with a silhouetted symbol on its door: cock, crescent moon, cross,
star, shield, sailboat, and heart (sets by John Bianchi), and wears
a heavy-looking black dress, decorated with red embroidery (costumes
by Carol Binion).
The story concerns a
pair of sailors: one American (Williams), one Portuguese (Andrei
Garzón), and the latter's Betrothed (Jennifer Lafferty).
Though the narrative is frequently interrupted by long group passages
that derail its trajectory, we gather that the American sailor is
actually in love with the Portuguese one, who ultimately spurns
him. The two sailors wear black pants, arm bands, and floppy hats,
and the red paint on their hands gradually leaves blood smears on
For all its vibrant
dancing and theatrical inventiveness -- Williams has a knack for
moving people around the stage in interesting ways -- "The Portuguese
Suite" felt distended; each section outlasts the amount of new information
it gives us. Perhaps it seemed long following a nearly hour-long
opener. Alone, 'Suite' would have made for a less protracted evening.
Williams's talent, imagination, and choreographic energy are irrefutable,
and we can't wait to see "The Golden Legend" completed. But his
youth has not yet taught him to leave us a little hungry for more.