Back in the early 1990’s, choreographer Dana Reitz and lighting designer Jennifer Tipton set up a laboratory at The Kitchen to investigate the “essential natures of movement and light.” Both were theater veterans who had been frustrated by the obstacles to collaboration—while a solo dancer might rehearse in a barn, stage lighting took truckloads of equipment and hours of positioning to achieve its effects; the two elements rarely converged until the day or two before a show. Reitz and Tipton’s research blossomed into movement/light workshops worldwide and into the dance Necessary Weather (1994), credited to Reitz, Tipton, and dancer Sara Rudner equally. Critics raved; the dance toured, then vanished. Sixteen years later, at the Baryshnikov Arts Center (May 13-15), it was back.
One hour long, no intermission, no music. Not much movement, either. Instead, shadow and light model the stage space into a travelogue suggesting elemental terrains: mountains, glaciers, deserts, ponds, glades. The dancers pass through these landscapes on solo pilgrimages. The feeling between them is of detachment, if not indifference; two interludes of perfunctory physical contact and a quasi soft-shoe routine do not change that impression. It’s acts of light, not danced behavior, that make for moments of oblique human rapport: Reitz’s silhouette looms against the backdrop becoming a storm cloud of turbulence as Rudner wanders within; the dancers come to rest at opposite edges of a broad pool of light—divided by space, joined in repose. They hold a straw hat; it morphs into a radiant chalice of gold.
If the lighting deepens our perception of the figures, the reverse is just as true. Without dancers moving across the stage, either minimally or not at all, we probably wouldn’t perceive the contours and volumes conjured up by the lights. It’s when the balance shifts and dancing attempts to take the expressive lead that the piece fails to cohere. Other than as noted above, the occasional bursts of dance-like movement are improvised (I learned by attending twice). Reitz doesn’t cover ground in these solos. She stands, precise and contained; her arms weave like antennae bouncing brainwaves through the cosmos. Rudner, on the other hand, launches herself through space, decanting movement with liquid ease.
Anyone who’s watched Reitz and Rudner over the years will have recognized their distinctive movement personas. But in this context—that is, in this revival—the dancers seem strapped into contrastive type (Reitz the analytical vs. Rudner the sensual; Reitz the cool vs. Rudner the impassioned) and the dancing seems arbitrary to the whole. Was it any different the first time around? I asked those who’d been there in 1994 if the choreography had changed. No one could say. It was the lighting they remembered most of all.
L.J. SUNSHINE is a writer living in New York. She has written about dance and Italian cultural events for Oggi Sette.