Intimate Gatheringsby Christine Shan Shan Hou
Seeing Vicky Shick dance is like happening upon a beautiful secret. She was the highlight of Chamber Works I: Intimate Dances for a Small Space, a shared evening of dance as part of the 2012 La MaMa Moves! Festival. For this program, curators Nicky Paraiso and Mia Yoo transpose a genre of classical music onto dance through the work of Shick, Juliette Mapp, and Maura Nguyen Donohue. Wolfgang von Goethe described chamber music as “four rational people conversing,” a sense of intimacy that is certainly echoed in Shick’s So be it—not a piece—miniatures for five.
Donohue opens the program with present.tense (progressive), a piece that takes its cue from Yvonne Meier’s “score technique,” which according to Meier’s artist statement “provides dancers with a frame for experiencing and expressing physical urges from the body in relationship to a given task or situation.” Experienced as a three-part conversation with sound artist Adam Cuthbert and “movement composer” Aretha Aoki, present.tense (progressive) is a movement and sound exchange triggered by poetic scraps of text as dictated through a megaphone by Aoki. She declares open-ended phrases such as “breaking apart at every seam,” “fantastic disarray,” “there is a small earthquake,” and “I will be your legs” every couple of minutes.
Meanwhile, Donohue (in a sporty, red, zip-up nylon vest and shiny, silver, rolled-up track pants and knee pads) interprets the words in gleeful bounces and spastically flailing arms. Cuthbert’s distorted, video game sounds complement Donohue’s chaotic spirit, but they feel like an afterthought. Although I appreciate the high energy and congeniality Donohue showed while casually conversing with audience members throughout the piece, present.tense (progressive) is more like a workshop exercise used to generate rough material than a piece unto itself.
Alternately, Juliette Mapp’s Dark Matter is a subtle yet tenacious solo-in-progress that delves heedfully into the unknown. Set to John Cage’s “Two for Violin and Piano or Sho,” Dark Matter derives its title from an unknown spatial substance that neither emits nor absorbs light and what astronomers believe to compose more than 20 percent of our universe. Fingertips are gently placed on top of fingertips, a wrist bends with unsettling force, and shoulders slowly roll backward, twisting Mapp’s gaze and torso skyward.
Mapp bears the quality of a hesitant angel. Her fingers, like antennae, reluctantly graze and firmly press against the floor, an obscure and oblique world. In an arresting moment, Mapp shakily balances on a bent left leg in an uncertain arabesque. She swiftly pinwheels her arms as if swimming or fighting off the dark matter she seeks to understand. Cage’s disquieting score, which consists of rogue piano chords punctuated by sharp violin strings, lends an appropriate air of mystery to Mapp’s tender and cautious endeavor.
At the end of the journey came a celebratory reunion of sorts. Vicky Shick’s So be it—not a piece—miniatures for five is a gathering among old friends. And what fine friends to be accompanied by: Shick, Jon Kinzel, Marilyn Maywald, Robert Swinston, and Cathy Weis stand casually in a line with their arms around each others’ shoulders. A sense of affinity immediately pervades La MaMa’s homey, third-floor theater space. The five dancers smile at the audience before breaking into various groupings throughout the rest of the performance.
Shick, Weis, and Maywald shift through poses like models or muses, while Swinston and Kinzel share candy on the side. A miniature bench and an old-fashioned wooden school desk are carried onto the stage, suggesting a children’s classroom or furniture for a young mind to daydream on. Composed of a series of shared, intimate moments, So be it concentrates on the smaller muscles that build character and help us to relate to one another. Fingers, wrists, and toes deliver eloquent exchanges. Swinston extends his right arm while Shick outlines his limb with her forehead. She gently alters his knees like a puppeteer and then rides his back right leg like a horse. A sound recording of a wildly bouncing ping-pong ball plays in the background.
Later, Kinzel rests his head on the ground as if attempting a headstand and then tiptoes around a posed Maywald. He gives her a piggyback ride across the shallow stage. Weis places her hands on her waist and thighs and elegantly curls over. She lingers by the school desk, appearing to be lost in a world of her own.
So be it is amazingly lighthearted and filled with nuance and joy, a feeling that culminates in an idyllic closing scene: While lying on a rainbow-striped blanket, Weis is dragged by Kinzel and Swinston across the stage and placed next to Maywald. Shick retrieves two bottles of water and glasses, as if preparing for a celebratory toast, and the five dancers sit on the blanket drinking and pouring water into and out of each other’s glasses. Shick’s quiet and eccentric picnic closes the evening with awe and mutual admiration.
ContributorChristine Shan Shan Hou
CHRISTINE SHAN SHAN HOU is a poet, artist, and writer living in Brooklyn.