It’s not exactly news that space in New York is at a premium, particularly for space-hungry ventures like dance studios and performance venues. So it is with special interest that a few spaces off the beaten path have offered distinctive, thoughtful shows in the last few weeks. CPR – Center for Performance Research inaugurated its Williamsburg space with work by French artist Christian Rizzo (presented by Chez Bushwick with FIAF), Baryshnikov Arts Center hosted the reprise of the well-received Rammed Earth by Tere O’Connor, and Joyce Soho is showing the fruits of a collaboration between Wally Cardona and Rahel Vonmoos.
CPR, founded by Chez Bushwick’s Jonah Bokaer and choreographer John Jasperse, offered a glimpse of French artist Rizzo’s conceptual work. A storefront room is devoted to his installation, 100% Polyester (video below), in which two sheer nightgowns joined at the sleeves dandle from hangars, tossed by the breezes from multiple fans. Absence, presence, life, death are all hinted at. A video self-portrait Rizzo made with Caty Olive consists of video portraits of other dancers, refractions of the artist as perceived by his subjects.
Rizzo was selected to choreograph a solo by (and for) I-Fang Lin, a dancer with Mathilde Monnier. The piece, keying off of Lin’s costume changes, evolved from banal prop set-up (casual clothes), through formal artifice and speechifying (navy suit and heels), to lighthearted escape (sundress and visor). The gallery-like concrete box setting contributed to the sense that Rizzo’s work can be approached as you might a conceptual art installation as much as dance. A bonus was a matrix of portraits of choreographers/dancers by Peggy Jarrell Kaplan, hung in the passageway to the theater space.
Tere O’Connor’s Rammed Earth (video below) was performed at the Chocolate Factory in Queens last year, and was so successfully received that it was brought back this season. Baryshnikov Arts Center has begun to make its mark on the New York dance landscape, witth residencies/performances by artists such as Aszure Barton, William Forsythe (his brilliant and shocking You Made Me a Monster, which stood up as an art installation as well as a cross-genre dance performance), and Fang-Yi Sheu’s LAFA & Artists.
An amazing quartet performs Rammed Earth, many familiar presences in New York dance: Heather Olson, Christopher Williams, Hilary Clark, and Matthew Rogers. Audience members shift their chairs several times. We began scattered evenly across the studio space, then lined our chairs first against a long wall, then a short one. In this studio space, the change of vista was likely less meaningful than in last year’s less pristine setting, but the breaks paced the hour-long performance nicely. And by taking action, the audience feels more integrated into the performance.
The varied, grab-bag movement draws on the quotidian, mime, all kinds of dance genres, and most powerfully, full-out running. Rogers has an extensive running passage that sweeps close to audience members, which each dancer eventually joins. More dramatic sections involve slamming into walls or one another. The four end up as far from us as possible, in dim light, receding away sadly.
Joyce Soho is normally configured as a black box, kept the same way for each performance. But for Wally Cardona/Rahel Vonmoos’ A Light Conversation, the stage is turned perpendicular to the street and enclosed on all four sides with black fabric. Seating is arranged in a U-shape. It’s unrecognizable as Joyce Soho.
The work departed from Joyce Soho’s normal residency program, which offers studio space and support, but no promise of a presentation. Cardona/Vonmoos were able to inhabit the theater the week prior to their performances to install the configuration and tweak lighting and sound. The knotty work involves a soundtrack of conversations about Kierkegaard as well as some strategically-timed live music. The two choreographers, who mesh extremely well, move nearly constantly, shifting dynamics in reaction to the cadences of the largely stultifying speech.
Dance is such a fragile construct in its healthiest state, and at a scary time when huge, historical institutions are crashing right and left, it is even more vulnerable. All three presenters – CPR/Chez Bushwick, Baryshnikov Arts Center, and Joyce Soho – have taken care to nurture these projects into fruition. Perhaps commerce can learn something from art.