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Letter from New York, 3-22: The Never-Drowning Woman
Swimming to Not Plunging with Keely Garfield

By April Biggs
Copyright 2007 April Biggs

NEW YORK -- Friday, March 9: Here we are again at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church. Subject: Water. I think tears, amniotic fluid, flood, drool, the sea and of course, sex, rain, 70% of our bodies, sweat. Keely Garfield's work begs the question: What's with all the water? Her recent works have included "Deep" (2003), whose press release came with images of women at the cement rim of an empty pool and tiptoeing along the embankment of a river; and an evening of two evocative duets, "Disturbulance" and "Scent of Mental Love" (2005), whose postcard displayed Garfield arched and outstretched in an aqua pool. Past titles have also included: "Spill" (2002), "Free Drinks for Ladies With Nuts" (2002), "A Fishy Tale" (2001), "My Father Was a Spanish Captain" (1997), and "Come Hell & High Water" (1993). Tonight, we have "Line & Sink Her." I admit I am equally obsessed with water.

Here we are again, tired after a long day of running around. I forgot to eat all day so I throw back some fig newtons with a soda before taking my seat. 8:30 p.m. drifts by, and intermittently the audience moors their chatter to silence in anticipation.

"Line & Sink Her" opens with a section called 'Decked,' a self-soothing progression of four women rocking back and forth while crawling across the floor. They collapse, taking brief respites then crawling again to the lyrics, "... these feelings won't go away, they keep knocking me sideways," from Citizen Cope's hypnotic ballad "Sideways." 'Decked' seems to be a prologue to the entire work, washing up an emotionally shipwrecked cast. Yet, as the piece goes on, the rest of the cast serves as Garfield's companions and, separately, represents some aspect of her. The women in 'Decked' shift about in scraps of dance garb: cut-up cotton sweater leggings and tops normally used as warm-up attire, a comfort food for the body of a dancer. We are immersed in their private and heavy grief.

For the section 'Line & Sink Her,' which occupies at least 40 minutes of the 50-minute evening, the musicians set up downstage left. I am captivated by their grace and the strangeness of their instruments. One plays a horn which is connected to a sound board; the other has a mic and an accordion-like box. 'Decked' plunges into 'Line & Sink Her' in the way a novel transitions from its opening scene to its plot. The lighting is stark and Garfield stands center stage with a rope. She ties it around herself and struggles with it the way most dancers do in their first prop study exercise of composition class. Luckily this is brief and I am drawn downstream to a chair placed in the downright corner. A woman sits there like a voyeur observing Garfield. Robert La Fosse enters the scene to tug with Garfield over the rope; two other women half-gallop slowly around the stage -- one with duct-tape across her cream sleeveless sweater, the other in a green dress and sweater sleeves. The sound of their feet is like waves slapping the sides of a boat. Eventually Garfield and the beckoning Omagbitse Omagbemi face off in opposing pools of light downstage and upstage. Navigated by the haunting tempo of the live accompaniment of Luca Fadda and Keith Borden, their bodies parlay gestures, dig up, question, storm and sometimes acquiesce as they flit and undulate worlds apart. I imagine a vast and cinematic ocean between them.

Lawrence Goldhuber enters as Garfield's quintessential playmate or sibling. He seems to frighten her as she cowers, but then chasing and hiding ensues. After much posturing, they have a raucous but silly swordfight. La Fosse is the reflection of Garfield's courage, at one point jumping between Goldhuber and Garfield with a thunderous shout.

Each passage of "Line & Sink Her," while seemingly distinct flows easily into the next until I stop touching the seams. Garfield's brilliance lies in the intuitive choices she makes with her characters and the thin balance between an imaginary world and a palpable one. We are slung between the two as if tossed up into the air from one lush blanket and caught by another.

As we near the crest, Garfield decides vengeance will be her sail. She becomes her own enemy when she stabs and kills La Fosse, at which time he cries, "Shit!" adding a much-needed moment of levity. During "Line & Sink Her," particular repetitious gestures with thumbs and two fingers whether flicked in the air or stuck in mouths or against foreheads -- have wended their way through the work. The whole gang is now picked off one by one with two-finger shoots from Garfield, as they also cry out, "Shit!" Live chords of "Amazing Grace" slip into the church, as Garfield performs a final solo. She wears a blue top with gold braided tassels dangling from the shoulders. Unfortunately, her solo only skims the surface and is lackluster compared with the previous 45 minutes. I had been afloat and engaged in Garfield's anamnesis, her epic tale realized with archetypal characters who serve as her allies, her family, her lovers and, at times, her enemies. The final moments felt unfinished, as if suddenly she became frightened of her own drowning.

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