AESTHETICS OF DENIALby L.J. Sunshine
Since you’re reading this article, chances are you’re an experienced, contemporary dance-goer and don’t need me to tell you that a piece of choreography can look like anything but. Nonetheless, there’s strange and there’s strange-er. Donna Uchizono’s longing two (June 1-5) belongs in the second category, both for its idiosyncratic touches as for its inscrutable intent. What ever is Uchizono up to?
She certainly gives two-ness a workout: the piece has two parts held in two venues (the Baryshnikov Arts Center and The Kitchen); the four dancers behave as two pairs of two. And the Howard Gilman Performance Space at BAC (Part I) has been bisected through its long width by two parallel walls that form a waist-high corridor in white. The audience (two rows deep) is divided, each cohort sitting outside, and facing into, a wall. (Perhaps not walls, exactly; they’re more like membranes—craft paper draped from a frame. As the performance gets going, you hear the occasional thwok of dancer to paper, see light leaking at the base. That porous divider both locks us out and hints at letting us in.)
All views are partial; for most of Part I, the dancers are seen only from ribcage to crown. And before the show starts, you watch as the other half of the audience—just visible over the opposite rim—arrives and settles. Their bobbing heads, the partitions, the flattened stage picture, the wide expanse: it’s a fisheye perspective and the distortion packs a subtle thrill. Then the lights dim, surf and gull sounds swell up, and two women (Anna Carapetyan and Savina Theodorou) appear at the far end of the corridor, arms unfurling like flags.
The dancers drift back and forth along the periphery of the corridor, doing more wavy things with their arms. Sometimes they’re close enough for us to touch; at others they’re lost to the margins. But since the movement is bland, repetitive, and seems designed around the décor (there’s even an upside-down duet so we can see their legs), you never sense that the partition’s blocking something out. Your eye moves from the corridor’s periphery to its center: Uchizono and Hristoula Harakas face-off, gazes locked, and make a stately passage—Harakas inches backward while Uchizono creeps ahead. You have the feeling that the line of their gaze is an axle; if either looks away, they’ll both fall down.
What do the two couples have to do with each other? Given the way Carapetyan and Theodorou come close and stare at us, given the occasional murmuring of text (live and recorded) in James Lo’s sound design, they don’t seem like abstractions. Are the ones on the edges young maidens to the matriarch and elder at the core? Only days later does something of the sort come to mind, though it’s an interpretive stretch. And I suppose it’s longing we’re meant to feel as Carapetyan and Theodorou, each balancing a ceramic pitcher on her head, walks viewer to viewer, asks, “would you like some water?” and ignores the occasional “yes.” The episode is so banal and interminable, despite the dancers’ best efforts at the glassy-eyed stare, that I’m left to wonder whether Uchizono intends it as camp. On the bus ride from Part I to Part II, more of the same ensues.
After the beige geometry at BAC, The Kitchen’s stage is inky and oceanic. We’re inside the corridor now. A band of white ribbons the firmament. It’s the wall from Part I, lit by Joe Levasseur to glow, intermittently, as with moonlight, or glisten, as with rain. Carapetyan and Theodorou canter about, as before; Uchizono and Harakas still face off and we watch them head on, rather than in profile. Uchizono is butt to earth, performing a legs-in-the-air solo of tiny ankle-foot articulations with an infant’s absorption. Harakas counters with a full-length, standing aria of the extended limb. Her dance is oddly free of dynamic variety and her face is blank, but when Harakas sends a leg skyward, when she torques it meditatively, it’s got the loft of a wand and the thrust of a spear.
This gorgeous spectacle alone should be enough, shouldn’t it? It is. And it’s not. By the time we see Harakas’ solo, we’ve sat through nearly two hours of monochromatic movement, repeated far beyond its intrigue. Though days later I puzzle out the theme and variation conceit behind the Uchizono/Harakas dyad, while watching, I’m frequently bored. The most affecting elements of the piece are the non-dance ones—Ronnie Gensler’s provocative décor and Wendy Winters’s elegant cream-toned costumes, as well as those mentioned above. Had longing two been advertised as a mixed-media art installation rather than a choreographic work, would I have liked it more? Right, and a rose would smell as sweet. But while a rose releases its perfume, Uchizono’s latest permits barely a peek at a private world. Even when seeming to invite us in, it says keep out.
L.J. SUNSHINE is a writer living in New York. She has written about dance and Italian cultural events for Oggi Sette.