REVIEW: Summation Dance’s “Deep End” at Baryshnikov Arts Center
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hursday night at Baryshnikov Arts Center, Summation Dance premiered Sumi Clements’ Deep End, a morbid portrayal of New York life as a clutter of futility. The work looks at the dehumanizing effects of living as one among many, and the struggle and frequent despair inherent in the voracious quest to achieve.
Deep End begins in silence, with all ten dancers in three horizontal lines in the back center of the stage. Dressed simply, in blue leggings and sheer, flowing tank tops they pace, heavy footed, right to left. The rows move one after the other in a cannon. The overall effect succeeds in creating a wave of movement resembling the very fishbowl that inspired the work. (Clements’ Deep End is an exploration of society as a fishbowl: confining, enforced co-habitation; and life that is seemingly purposeless).
After a long, monotonous opening the fishbowl finally spills open and the dancers break into groups and take turns running up and downstage. Finally, they disperse and we are left with the first of many solos, duets, and small group work. The first solo involves an emotionless woman, eyes closed, thrusting her torso repetitively over her legs. This opens into a series of shuffling and crawling movements, performed in small alternating groups, broken up by short solo works. The music (mostly the work of NYU grad Kyle Olsen with some contemporary masters, such as Moby mixed in) enters shortly after the opening and consists of simple drum beats and percussion. The movement rarely accompanies the melody and at times presses against it.
Halfway through the 50-minute piece, the stage goes black, music blasts a thumping techno and we wait for the dancers to return. They emerge from the wings in unflattering costumes: black biker shorts and leotards with chiffon skirts or blouses. For a moment we are duped into thinking the choreography will transform with the wardrobe change. Unfortunately it does not.
Much of the movement looks pedestrian. There is hardly any precise legwork. There is a lot of crawling, running, and falling. The dancers move slowly on their hands and knees and also in a “crabwalk” fashion. They chase something (or nothing) speeding across the stage and back, anger and despair seething from their eyes. There is one solo in which a dancer repeatedly throws herself into the floor, as if a masochist or psychotic. Some of the work is more upbeat. In a refreshing moment where three women move with what appears to be hope, conviction, and confidence we wonder: Maybe these are the elite of the fish bowl?
Most often, though, dancers appear to be frightened and hopeless. Much of the choreography includes simple lifts in which the women appear to be tossing each other, or are they pushing each other along? There are also many poses in which the women interlock their hands and arms. It is unclear if they struggle together or against one another. Perhaps Clements is insinuating both: we help pull each other down and prop each other up. Our co-habitation forces us to smother each other, but it also keeps us continuously striving for more.