Kilpatricks Imaginative Costumes, Activated
An exhibition of costumes by Barbara Kilpatrick set the stage for choreography by Silas Riener and Rashaun Mitchell at Hudson Hall.
New York CityHudson Hall
May – June 2022
Hudson Hall, built in the 1850s as Hudson’s first city hall, was designed to function as a Columbia County gathering place, with a post office, bank, lecture hall, and gallery. It continues to draw the public, albeit with performances in its splendid hall, recently renovated to incorporate modern amenities such as a/c and an elevator. With a flexible, gymnasium-like floor plus a raised proscenium stage, it hosts forward-looking events which eschew traditional models. For example, Hudson Hall recently presented Nearly Stationary, a performance choreographed by Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener that activated an exhibition of costumes by Barbara Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick, who conceived and designed the event, has been a fixture on the New York downtown performance scene for decades.
An array of Kilpatrick’s designs on dress forms populated the hall’s first floor central hallway and gallery, in addition to maquettes, a scaled-down, four-foot tall theater proscenium, and swaths of fabrics printed with her photographs. Upstairs, in the center of the performance hall, stood another 16 or so costumes, each distinguished by its daring materials—plastic, straps, copper cloth/wire, tulle, quilted cotton, rope, and more. Kilpatrick favors form-fitting A-line dress silhouettes, although several pieces jarringly evoke hazmat chic (she thanks dancer/choreographer Vicky Shick for inspiring most of the costumes). Kilpatrick has collaborated with Shick since 1988, creating transformative costumes and sets ; they have presented projects at The Kitchen, PS 122, The Brooklyn Museum, and more, adding visual flair to modern dance’s primarily basic aesthetic.
Framed by a pair of sculpted “curtains,” a string quartet (Cordelia Mutter, Devin Cowan, Ellie MacPhee, Zoë Auerbach) sat on the stage and played John Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts (1950), the third section of which provided the show’s title. According to a program note by Mark Swed, Cage wrote this composition at the fulcrum between his more traditional work and his explorations using chance operations. While not exactly harmonic, the sparse violin lines resonated, fractured, and, unconstrained by standard measures, floated in the vast space.
Riener and Mitchell, two of Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s stars when the company disbanded in 2012, have been collaborating for years now. Several of their projects have involved working with art installations and reacting to specific sites. In Nearly Stationary, they seem to have sublimated their own considerable stage presences in deference to Kilpatrick’s forefronted creations, and to the music. They entered and struck deliberate poses that recalled moments in art history—Riener (in a woven string tunic) standing in contraposto, Mitchell (in a paint-splattered jacket and circular skirt) seated like the woman in Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’Herbe.
They remained static for a long spell, shifting their gazes or wiggling extremities on occasion. Eventually, they began to stretch their limbs, twist their torsos into spirals, and lunge deeply. They rolled the dress forms upstage to create an arc, darting and leaping in the newly freed space centerstage, clasping hands and dipping one another with ballroom dramatics. They moved with gusto for a fleeting half hour, but seeing such accomplished dancers so close reminded me of the potential power and fluency of dance after the pandemic’s forced distancing.
Later in Cage’s score, dissonant chords gave way to plangent strains that might have influenced Arvo Pärt. Riener donned a long white coat lying onstage, an extension of another outfit. As he moved forward slowly, the knotted lengths pulled taut. The resulting bridge underscored connections real or remembered between the costumes, the dancers who once wore them, and of previous artistic endeavors. The evocative lighting, by Sage Marie Carter, ranged from dim, to sharply spotlit, to rosy dawn. The performance offered a welcome, if brief, dose of contemporary art, dance, and music in a historic setting.