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Flash Review 3, 10-10:
Pigeon-holing Monson at P.S. 122
By Ursula Eagly
Copyright 2000 Ursula Eagly
If "Swan Lake" is a fairy
tale dance about beautiful birds, Jennifer Monson's "The Pigeon
Project" -- which runs through October 15 at P.S. 122 -- is the
modern dance equivalent: a conceptually complex dance about ordinary
fowl. Although it is inspired by animal behavior and ecology, the
piece is characterized by the ambiguity of fiction rather than the
certainty of science. This slightly sinister uncertainty is embodied
in gray costumes, gray walls (and what color could be more explicitly
ambivalent than gray?), a spare James Lo music score, and a lighting
design that is more about shadow than illumination. And while the
three dancers respond to each other's movements, they seldom make
eye contact, which imparts a disturbing lack of emotion -- much
like the birds they imitate.
Even apart from its title,
the dance is obviously inspired by pigeons. Monson evokes many different
aspects of flight: at one point, the dancers jog through the space
circling, pairing, repairing, and otherwise tracing a flock's intricate
flight patterns. Indeed, the entire piece is structured by this
framework. The three women remain onstage alternatingly dancing
solos, duets, and trios.
Monson also conjures
the feeling of midair suspension. In one scene, the performers lie
side by side on their stomachs, looking down at the floor with their
arms outstretched. Even though the length of their bodies is in
contact with the ground, they appear to be flying and gazing at
a vast panorama below. Viewers feel that they are floating far above
the clouds, looking down at three birds.
The dancers' shifts of
weight become analogous to the adjustments that birds make while
coasting on an air current. This shifting, wavering quality is a
"Pigeon Project" motif. In a movement refrain, the performers stand
on both feet, shifting weight as their arms slowly rise, fingers
-- which act like feathers -- ruffling in a make-believe breeze.
Such quivering is also
mirrored in the lighting design. On two occasions, the space is
lit only by a white light hanging from a rope-and-pulley clothesline.
The light wobbled as technicians moved it along the clothesline,
filling the stage with trembling shadows and lending an aura of
instability to even the still performers.
Other aspects of the
tech were less successful. At various points, technicians dangle
objects -- a mobile, a feather -- in the path of lights pointed
at a screen that covers a third of the upstage wall. While the effect
of the shadow played into the quavering theme, the short length
of the screen seemed more accidental than intentional.
The screen was part
of a minimal set that also included bundles of white feathers strung
from the ceiling (which cast shadows on the back wall), and two
sculptures reminiscent of the spinning devices that measure wind
speed. The sculptures looked like a cross between a record player
and a toy boat with three upward curving wires punctuated with badminton
birdies -- a cute visual pun that brings us back to the three dancers.
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