An Inside Look at Armitage Gone! Dance Spring Season at the Joyce Theater
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his week, Armitage Gone! Dance, under the direction of daring choreographer Karole Armitage, took the stage at the Joyce Theater in New York for a two week, two program concert run spanning from April 26-May 8th. The show, no matter what night you choose to see it, promises to be anything but tame. With seven rehearsals to go before the dancers moved into the theater, I sat down with Karole Armitage at the company’s rehearsal home, Dance Theatre of Harlem, to get a sneak peek of both her new work and repertory that has been refreshed and revamped for this unique company season. Program A of the Armitage Gone! Dance season will incorporate Ligeti Essays and Drastic Classicism, both older works continuously evolving since creation, as well as the world premiere of Armitage’s newest work GAGA-GaKu, performed with selected members of Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble. Program B will show Three Theories, a full-evening piece premiered in 2010 dealing in universal physical laws and phenomena. In my observation of two of Armitage’s pieces, Ligeti Essays and GAGA-Gaku, it didn’t take long for me to realize the full scale of Armitage’s ambition, fed by a fascination with human experience.
[quote_right author=”— Karole Armitage”]
Art gives you a chance to think about the world, to clarify your priorities.
With dancers discussing counts in imagined wings, watching footage of repertory and analyzing key partnering moments, it was clear that the attention to perfection begins in the studio. To foster versatility, Armitage keeps company members from getting too comfortable. At any given run, they may switch roles from those previously rehearsed. To begin rehearsal, she suggested a “radical” version of repertory piece Ligeti Essays in which new dancers stepped into new roles. Ligeti Essays is not a matter of just knowing steps either—it is a piece delving deeply into character psyches. Inspired by the sparse yet powerful vocal compositions of György Ligeti, the dance weaves itself between synchronicity with the music and careful movement embellishment of silences. Armitage shows her ear for the music in speaking back with dancer-created rhythms and dynamic rebuttal to sound. The effect is almost akin to walking down busy city streets, catching slight glimpses of conversations that range in mood from kooky and lighthearted to deeply dark and conflicted. Armitage told me she wanted to look at “archetypal identities” that range every aspect of human consciousness “from sarcastic to stoic, injust to frivolous.”
Rehearsal continued with polishing of GAGA-Gaku, still in its finishing stages before premiere. Set to Japanese court music through the electric guitar medium, this piece evokes, as Armitage put it,“ a Cambodian temple plopped in the center of New York City.” Here, a conglomeration of culture and mixed dance genres make for an experience that is “transcultural, transsexual, and transexperiential.” The piece incorporates ornate hands of court dancing, flat feet perfect for rhythm-making (unique for a contemporary ballet company), bodies as sculptural scenery and call and response of chorus versus soloists. GAGA-Gaku is this time not about characters themselves but about chaos under order—the storm beneath the meditation. It is an offering of respect for a lack of control. And it stands very true to the Armitage perspective. As she told me, “Art gives you a chance to think about the world, to clarify your priorities.” It seems this piece is coming at a crucial time, when global understanding is key to both personal and political spheres. It is the time to collaborate, to embrace the innumerable influences that form our voices.
Armitage Gone! Dance is all about artistic collaboration. Karole Armitage uses live musicians often in her pieces, collaborates with fashion designers for costumes, and visual artists for sets. In this practice, she brings dance out of isolation and instead frames it in a larger context. Music is not layered on top but directly confronted as if to be a “full partner.” For a company with strong balletic focus, there is no end to breaking the boundaries of classicism in order to unearth new truths. Armitage and her dancers will continue to explore the “real forces that inhabit us” because it is the perfect opportunity to compare notes, to find connection. Do not miss this chance to see what she has discovered so far.