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Letter from New York, 4-14: Lapses
Flowing in the light with Sperling; drowning in it with Sadia-Lavant

Jody Sperling / Time Lapse Dance. Photo ©Julie Lemberger and courtesy Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

By Philip W. Sandstrom
Copyright 2010 Philip W. Sandstrom

NEW YORK -- The pre-show screening of comedic black and white silent movies, of the art house variety, befittingly accompanied by canned piano music, set a near perfect tone for the bifurcated tenth anniversary season of Time Lapse Dance at the Tribeca Arts Center.

Jody Sperling, Time Lapse's choreographer and founder, splits her dance creations between two distinct genres: comedic situations and imagistic impressions. The comedy is simple, sometimes droll, and yet funny in a pun-like way. The impressions consist of homages to and re-imaginations or re-inventions of the legendary late 19th, early 20th century choreographer Loie Fuller, who manipulated voluminous panels of diaphanous fabric with special, hidden, lightweight wooden extensions of her own invention, which greatly increased the reach of her arms and body and combined them with the expressive use of light, unique visual effects, and dance. Sperling, inspired by Fuller, uses similar techniques as she creates her extraordinary images by propelling fabric in an endlessly flowing, complex and spiraling, cascading fashion which, fused with colorful and inventive lighting and expressive dancing women, create magical images of turbulent clouds, fluttering wings, whipping cream, cotton candy, and flight itself. Considering that very few moving images of Fuller's work exist, and the few photographs are still black and white images, it is safe to ascribe a fair degree of originality to Sperling's work.

Opening the concert (which I caught February 21) with "Clair de Lune," described in the program as a tribute to Fuller, Sperling, as performer and choreographer, aided by lighting designer David Ferri, provided inspirational majesty and powerful images of a woman in charge roaring through a darkened universe propelled by her gentle wings like one of Oden's 12 handmaidens. She sought her fallen warrior for transport to Valhalla. This was quintessential imagistic Sperling, a masterful work of resplendent yet restrained evocation of the supernatural.

Jody Sperling / Time Lapse Dance. Photo ©Julie Lemberger and courtesy Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

Continuing in the vein of Fuller, for the three-part "Forms of Dilemma," a premiere, Sperling mines the essence of Fuller and explodes the genre into a quartet, trio, and solo variations. With the bold use of the cyclorama, on which were projected shadows of moving dancers from the front and the rear, Sperling toyed with size, proportion, and motion while Ferri manipulated color on the cyc and on the dancers' white costumes. The result was an arresting melange of cloth, dancers, and color, with the confluence of shadows looming large and small often working in counterpoint to the dance onstage. The delightful confusion created imaginative optical illusions, which supported the action by appearing to alter the affective presence of shadow and the visible dancer. This imaginative idea worked best as three dancers formed shadows behind the cyc while a singular dancer created her own shadows from the front as she interacted with the shadows from behind. Danced by Joori Jung, Krissy Tate, Chriselle Tidrick, and Sperling, it all made for an orgy of portraiture which often overwhelmed the powers of perception.

As a departure, "Satellite," an aerial work featuring Rachel Slazman, broke new ground in the Sperling repertory, but was unfortunately limited by the physical nature of the rope itself. Dressed in a long flowing white costume lit with rich colors, Slazman was reduced to working herself up and down in suspension, often swinging in mid-air. It was a spatial disappointment.

The remainder of the dances consisted of intentionally half-hearted clowning and mildly humorous circus routines, in excerpts from "A Leg Up," "Cheap," and "Bang for a Buck." These dances represent the opposite side of Sperling's choreographic vision. Although genuine in execution and intent, they don't live up to the magic of her stunning Fuller inspired work.

The man sitting down in the audience

I had to miss the last dance of Time Lapse's show, "Ghosts Revisited," running out an hour and 40 minutes into the two-hour program to get to the Barysnikov Arts Center (BAC) in time for the 5 p.m. performance of Razerka Ben Sadia-Lavant's "L'homme assis dans le couloir."

As I caught my breath in the BAC theater, the dancer Sarah Crepin barged in from the stage left door of the lobby, flopping down in an onstage chair, apparently exhausted. She flung her dance bag on the floor, ripped off her shoes and socks, stripped her bra off from underneath her blouse and settled into a satisfied slouch, which certainly matched my mood.

I thought Here we go, a beautiful woman sprawled out on a folding chair swirling her feet to an internal rhythm, this is a great beginning. Then came the non-directional sounds of a male humming and his amplified breathing emanating from everywhere. The video monitors planted on the stage floor at downstage left and right came to life with text, a clunky English translation of Marguerite Duras's hyper-sensual title work, as it was recited in French by the recorded voices of French rock legend Jacques Dutronc and Tal Beit-Halachmi.

Not being a Francophone, I was forced to split my time between reading the steamy script and craning to watch what proved to be an extraordinary dancer performing mediocre choreography of an unchallenging nature. Her every motion revealed the magic of the talent wasted on pedestrian frivolities, movement without purpose or thought. This character moved within an all-white scenic atmosphere of curtains and scrims hung like banners, a cream colored background, and upon a patterned white floor. With the colorless light glaring and bearing down on the dancer and the stage floor during much of the performance, I thought I was in the Camus novel "L'Étranger," complete with the tedious nature of the lack of action while waiting for the action.

In Duras's story a man meets a woman on a patio (or maybe it's a corridor), they sexually couple, she requests a savage post-coital beating and receives it in spades. This is not very sexy to me; actually quite repulsive. Figuring I could read the complete story at my leisure, I occasionally abandoned the text on the floor-mounted video screens and tried to concentrate on watching the dancer. Although a delight to behold, the performer's movements rarely paralleled the story, at best merely hinting at the story-line. Only during the "beatings" text did the choreography begin to reflect the intensity of the narrative as the dancer whipped off a near-endless series of fouettés and the lighting became so bright as to bake the floor, filling the air with the acrid out-gassing of the vinyl flooring.

As the story and text concluded, the dancer began an affair with a chair, in front of a mirror, under an exceptionally bright spotlight, complete with sexy breaths and undulations to match. Perhaps this was a reflection on the encounter? Or another form of debasement?

No sooner had the chair affair concluded than a series of rock sound snippets were played, starting with "Sunny" by Bob Hebb, followed by "These Boots Were Made for Walking" by Nancy Sinatra. Soon the snippets had become so short that although they sounded familiar, they did not last long enough for positive identification. During this sonic onslaught, Creepin merely boogied. I mean she danced like she was in a nightclub; it was modern day social dancing masquerading as choreography. The music got faster and louder, with shorter clips and added male voices, while the dancer began falls and recovery interspersed with writhing on the floor until a merciful blackout.

During the bows, I continued to muse about why the dance was never able to match the story.

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