REVIEW: BODYTRAFFIC at Gotham Dance Festival 2012
This Wednesday night the Gotham Dance Festival went cross-coastal with L.A. based BODYTRAFFIC, resulting in some serious fun. In the work of three international choreographers, Barak Marshall, Stjin Celis and Richard Siegel, BODYTRAFFIC displayed their strong capacity for technique, theatrics and overall exuberance.
First introduced to the culturally critical dances of Israeli choreographer Barak Marshall two summers ago at Jacob’s Pillow, I have been mesmerized by his gutsy approach ever since. BODYTRAFFIC opened with the world premiere of And At Midnight The Green Bride Floated Through The Village Square, Marshall’s latest glimpse of Yemenite life and tradition. Marshall dresses the dancers in traditional village fare which paired with distinctive Yiddish and Ladino songs immediately transports the piece. Movement consists almost entirely of intricate series of hard hitting gestures, performed in unison and fitting inseparably into musical rhythms. Look closer and you notice that staccato action is enhanced by subtle facial expressions: seduction, disgust, rage, suspicion. And, voila— with this Marshall has made a village of distinct characters.
The piece follows a strict non-fiction narrative. When she was growing up Marshall’s mother, renowned singer and performer Margalit Oved, lived near a family of eight sisters and one brother in what the town nicknamed “the burning house.” (You can imagine eight sisters out of adolescence and competing for male attention.) In between unison movement sections, Marshall uses short textual vignettes. Margalit herself calculates the time all nine children spent in the mother’s womb down to exact minutes. To illustrate the visceral (and hidden) sexual tension between the women and men of he village, Marshall has them discuss cooking. The descriptions of spices, temperatures, textures and tastes of cooking only confirm how closely necessity and pleasure sit. When the men and women join to dance, their longing for each other translates into the subtlest of actions, a glance, a shift, a fall.
Eventually, we find ourselves at the scene of the long awaited wedding with the full cast. As Tina Finkelman Berkett turns her veil into a gun we understand that tension will continue to be a part of life no matter the resolution. The incredible success of this work lies in the multidimensional approach to the underlying story. It is not entirely dependent on the dancing. But when Marshall does use movement, his phrases contain allusion, restraint and power like a pressure cooker.
Stjin’s Fragile Dwellings incorporates a neon light installation by Erwin Redl reminiscent of any city’s bars and billboards. Behind the long strands of color the back wall of the Joyce is exposed echoing the brick of city buildings. From the title and a program note, we know the piece tackles homelessness in Los Angeles. This knowledge inevitably creates distance, a preconceived set of parameters and expectations. Just like the air of nervousness that surrounds a weary panhandler on the subway of NYC, the energy surrounding the piece is timid. In contradiction to a predictable image, the dancers are dressed in angelic white, and the music is choral, echoing as if in a cathedral. The movement is overflowing with grace. Four lengthy and weightless dancers weave through one another without hint of aggression. Because the mood is deeply peaceful I find myself wishing I hadn’t known the topic, and that this intricate motion could stand on the legs of the aura it creates, rather than the message it tries to convey.
BODYTRAFFIC closes the night with O2JOY by Richard Siegel, artistic director of The Bakery in Berlin. Here is the pure, unencumbered love of dance. Set to the unmistakable sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Glenn Miller and the Oscar Peterson Trio, O2JOY allows for the modern interpretation of classic songs with classic flare. In solo moments, dancers can display a cheeky freedom in strong classical technique. One of the most notable yet missable is a close slow-dance across the back of the stage, while Lillian Barbeito (who has perhaps not yet settled on her own a partner) dances wistfully with lingering turns and balances. The intimacy here was more tangible than any Hollywood love scene. But Siegel never lets his sense of humor too far out of sight, proven by a lip sync with gusto by Andrew Wojtal.
As my date put it perfectly, “It is rare to see a choreographer make you nostalgic for an era without being trite.” Siegel glanced backward but kept his feet planted in the present. O2JOY sent us back to the street with a spring in our step.