There’s something about Ivy Baldwin’s work that’s transporting. It could be the movement, which shifts between childlike play and virtuosity. It might be the attention to detail in every element, from lighting to set to sound, including a settling overture. It might be the five engaging performers, including Baldwin. In all likelihood, it’s everything assembled and polished til it gleams.
Baldwin’s new work at DTW, Bear Crown, which closed this last weekend, makes the cavernous theater look wonderful. The velvet curtain sits closed for the overture (music by Justin Jones), with shimmering, hypnotic chords easing our minds into place for the performance. It opens to reveal a three-tiered, semicircular, wood platform (by Mendel Rabinovitch) flush upstage. Downspots cast light-columns on the wall, and Chloe Brown’s essential lighting imbues a golden glow over the proceedings. The setting is formal and monumental.
Mindy Nelson, fists above crooked elbows, slide-snaps her crossed feet together, slowly establishing a rhythm. The group joins in, making semi-heroic poses in lunges, biceps flexed and flaunted, circling wrists and torsos. Eyes hidden by hands, they migrate upstage and the movement diminishes to near imperceptibility, down to a collective sway, then just a breath. The five become one. The energy rises as the dancers step-chassee around the stage before beaching themselves on their stomachs, one leg bent, arms sphinxed.
Lawrence Cassella says, “My what a lovely bear crown you’ve got there. Did you get that at the bear crown store?” He and Baldwin try to outcompliment one another (“those are the loveliest bear lips I’ve ever seen”) in the vein of an absurdist fable, a genre which seems to intrigue Baldwin. She created the piece while in Romania, and says the title comes from a popular brand of beer there. Kitsch as that sounds, there is still a significant bear population in Romania; no doubt the animal’s potent presence and mythical associations provide rich fodder.
Things take a violent turn when Katie Workum begins to abuse Anna Carapetyan, shoving her against walls and dragging her limp body across the floor. Baldwin bends at the waist, a supplicant to the dominant action. She eases offstage then on again—across stage—in the same pose, as the others grovel and writhe. They wind up lying in a semicircle, and very slowly move to standing. The light turns silvery, drawing the dancers’ faces upward like sunflowers. They kneel on one knee, hind shin floating, arms like bird wings. It’s a mysterious ending to a story we may not be able to verbalize, but we’ve been altered by the journey nonetheless.
Picture of performance by Steven Schreiber