Jen Rosenblit and Katy Pyle's split bill this week at St. Marks church is one of the most intelligently irreverent new dance shows I've seen this year. Rarely does work from emerging artists appear this well developed, this well rehearsed, and this conceptually clear.
Rosenblit opens the program with her newest duet, When Them, for herself and long time collaborator Addys Gonzalez. They are in the space as we arrive, Gonzalez in navy shorts and a tealish green cotton t-shirt, Rosenblit in a saggy leotard, navy on the bottom, forest green on top. He is a long man with brown skin, a shaved head and a mustache, and she has strong legs, wide shoulders and a low, heavy stomach. They pace around the open space of St Marks church, pausing to perch on the gray risers or crouch in the well-lit dance space. After we are seated, the dance unfolds as a series of disjointed moments: deliberately half-assed pointing, elongated hinges with one foot extended and appealingly pointed, runs forward with hands grasping invisible strings and feet turned in. Each gesture seems to reference something, something pathetic perhaps but then, on the edge of sense or series, they turn away from whatever it could have been.
They morph again, this time her head is against the backs of his knees and they walk, and then trot, like a horse. This is all in silence and there are several moments to question the seriousness of this choice, but they pull it off with such aplomb that as a viewer I go from disbelief to laughter and back again before they finally move on. As the lights flicker, frail whining sounds approximating music accompany the dancers as they run up and down the length of St Marks, kicking and reaching ahead of themselves. One begins to be moved by the layers of sound, wavering lights, and the over-locking rhythm and sensuality of the pairs' extremely sensual mini-moments, but, then they abruptly shift again, into a tender investigation of lightness and weight. She lifts her thigh across his chest and he holds her, she gently lifts off her one pointed foot, like a bubble bobbing along.
Eventually, Rosenblit and Gonzalez approach the sides of the stage and pick up harmonicas. They stick them in their mouths, hands free, and as they begin to move again their breathing creates sound, obviously similar to the "music" we heard earlier. The joke again is on us as we realize that even the slight bit of emotionality we are allowed to feel in the "danciest" section of the work so far, is, also, completely denied, which, it turns out, is even more heartbreaking.
Finally, Rosenblit pushes Gonzalez over to the edge of the performance space. She lifts him onto the first row of the risers, and seems to be talking to the audience in hushed tones. All of sudden the audiences palms go up and it becomes apparent that Gonzalez is meant to surf the crowd at St Marks church. He does so, finally passing over my head and exclaiming, "Oh thank you very much," as he goes by.
After intermission, we return to watch Katy Pyle's absurdly funny homage to pop songs, melodrama and hoods. Her work features three talented performers who can not only dance with committed nonchalance but are also unafraid to sing with the same naturalness. They begin the work by performing remarkably successful harmonies of "Something's Gonna Die Tonight" by Rancid in blackness.
As Jules Skloot lovingly sings "Candle on the Water," a close up live feed video of her hooded and partially masked face is projected onto a screen hanging over the middle of the dance space. The video reminds me pointedly of an Abu Graihb torture reel, a thought that ricochets across my mind as the other two dancers manipulate a lumpy string that connects their cloaked and slowly moving bodies. After this umbilical cord is untied and laid sacrificially on the altar of St. Mark's Church, the obviously pregnant dancer in this trio is stabbed multiple times to the melody of Bette Middler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." However, she is finally immortalized in a bizarre tribute to motherhood where her belly is revealed through her unzipped leotard, she is crowned, cloaked and worshipped with the very knives that killed her. The whole cast sings along, including the pianist and a surreally floating saxophonist who glides around the edges of this ritual like a ghost.
I'm not sure what Pyle is trying to say with this very full dance, but her dancers perform it with such admirable comic timing, I don't really mind.
Photo by Yi-Chun Wu / Pictured: Jen Rosenblit and the BottomHeavies
iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Meghan Frederick
Performance: Katy Pyle and Jen Rosenblit
Choreography: Katy Pyle and Jen Rosenblit
Venue: St Mark's Church
Show Date: March 11, 2010
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