Site-specific dance works have a long history in New York, but amazingly, none have taken place in the lush eden of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden until Paradis, performed there last weekend by Yanira Castro/A Canary Torsi. Timed to coincide just as twilight knelt into darkness, the work began with Peter Schmitz isolated in the Desert House, a glass and metal birdcage. The audience was directed to ring the windows to watch; music was plinking live piano (Michael Dauphinais), piped in via walkie-talkies attached to ushers’ belts. There wasn’t much for a white-suited, zombie-like Schmitz to do—freezing in poses, occasionally darting down the dirt path that circled the exhibit of desert plants, raising his hand in a fist or shaking them at an unseen ghost. But it set a tone of isolation and anomie.
We were then led through a gracious stand of enormous, wise trees with luxuriantly sprawling canopies, eventually arriving at the Cherry Esplanade, where parallel rows of trees border a long grass lawn. Dauphinais played a baby grand piano under a tree, reading his score off of a laptop emitting a lunar glow. White phantasms emerged in the distance, at the opposite end of the pitch—eight dancers in white, leaping and gamboling toward us in fits and starts. Whether perfectly calculated, lucky, or both, this happened just at dusk, and cannon spotlights behind us illuminated to pick up where the sun left off. As the dancers neared, they slithered among we viewers who clustered randomly, engaging us in eye contact and pausing to remove a sneaker and hold it up as if to squash a bug. We casually sorted ourselves into eight groups, each following one dancer who whispered commands to follow or stay. The performers paired off, stripped to nude underwear, and did a series of sculptural poses that often relied on leveraged weight or embraces.
The musician goaded us into learning a hymn that we’d previously heard the dancers reciting from a distance. As we sang under the grove of cherry trees, our dancer friends retreated from us, evoking extraterrestrials heading to their mothership to fly away. Apparently inspired by Godard’s 2004 film Notre Musique, it raised questions of civilization, loss, memory, and creation (although the Desert House preamble felt quite separate and unrelated, other than being dreamlike). The evening, graced by perfect weather on June 2, felt like a miniature getaway to a land faraway.
Consider: Pascal Rioult is premiering a new work, On Distant Shores, to a commission by composer Aaron Jay Kernis (in one of two programs at the Joyce, June 14-19). This soundly structured examination of Helen of Troy and her relationships shows Rioult’s roots as a dancer for Martha Graham, as well as the considerable strengths of his dancers. And Jody Oberfelder’s The Soldier’s Tale (Schimmel Center for the Arts, Pace Univ., June 9-11), a new production to Stravinsky’s taut, intriguing parable.