It is possible for site specificity to take over a performance to such an extent that an awareness of place becomes, in a sense, the subject of the work itself. There was no denying the Bushwick-ness of Anna Sperber’s Naomi, performed the evenings of September 9 – 11. It was shown in her loft space called Brazil, a small room with an exotic name that floats precariously above Flushing Avenue as if continuous with the night sky. Bushwick itself felt its most romantic from this vantage point; it is a place that at times feels alive and raw, a reincarnation of some murky image our collective memory holds of an early ’80s SoHo. But there is more remoteness here: it is an extremity far enough away from the source of the city’s pulse to be cold in moments, even depressing.
There must have been less than 20 chairs in the audience, pushed as far up against the back wall as possible and facing a many-windowed corner. The dance started with looking outward; in the dark, dancers walked the perimeter of the space and then paused to gaze stoically or longingly out the windows. We are here, they acknowledged.
Later in the performance, individual dancers spent some time ignoring the windows and either turning and balancing independently in the center of the room or standing right up to the audience and looking beyond us, as if still gazing out of a window. But the dancers kept coming back to the open borders of this loft that seemed at once claustrophobic and dangerously open. A small room with big windows set high in the sky: limbs dangled outside; heads leaned out in unison; a stage light shone onto a building across the street.
Other lights were at play inside, both soft and sharp; sometimes it was just the streetlights outside in this industrial stretch of city that naturally lit the small space. Constant shifting had the piece crossing back and forth over the line between convincingly high dramatics and trying too hard. If the site-specificity was the star of the show, Joe Levasseur’s collaboration with Sperber on the lighting provided good enough support.
In danced movement, there was indeed a slow build from pedestrian movements into a progression of disparate solos and group actions that stayed miraculously disconnected from each other in a space that should have made any real distance impossible. One dancer writhed and twisted on the floor, others played with costumes, putting on and then loudly dropping to the floor their heavy, bejeweled, cropped jackets. The girl in me delighted at the sparkle of these garments in the changing lightscape. There were many moments of beauty, but amidst them, I had the nagging sense that one more edit might have brought these charged particles into something more cohesive, secure, and meaningful.
PATRICIA MILDER is an art and performance writer based in Brooklyn. She was a former Managing Art Editor at the Brooklyn Rail.