A review: ADF week – encouraging thought, affirming individuality

Jun. 30, 2013 @ 04:24 PM

On this third week, June 23-June 29, the American Dance Festival presented work by Faye Driscoll, Mark Haim and Kyle Abraham.

Commentary here will be on the first two choreographers since circumstances prevented seeing Abraham’s newest work, “Pavement.”

“You’re Me”

Faye Driscoll’s hour-long “You’re Me,” performed at Reynolds Industries Theater, may leave people perplexed but it may also encourage thought and leave memorable images.

It opens with Driscoll and Jesse Zaritt dressed in multi-layered clothes and long skirts that drape over the pedestals on which they stand. Their stillness, finally broken as they drop fruit and other objects onstage, signals that the drama is about to begin in earnest.

What unfolds sometimes puzzles, disturbs, provokes thought and provides insight.

For instance, what’s with all that body “paint” they smear themselves with – a powdery substance in yellow, red … and, the white talcum powder that fogs the stage, settles to the floor and billows out towards the theater? By the time this dance theater work ends, the stage is a mess. But whoever said that art has to be neat?

The rape and stabbing scenes disturb. The stabbing comes first as Driscoll plunges a knife into Zaritt’s chest, where a red bloom of color appears. Then, he stabs her in the abdomen and as she bleeds, he pulls out of her a stream of red, raggedy material that looks like entrails.

In the rape scene, Driscoll ends up under a large, white floor covering. Zaritt moves in and we hear her scream, “No, no!” She emerges angry, defiant and traumatized. He offers her an orange and she eats and eats. Then, she breaks off a piece and gives it to him and they both seem comforted. Other images of hunger – wanting to be fed -- appear throughout this work and suggest the nurturing we look for in relationships that often fall short of these expectations.

The difference between what men and women want is underscored in another section in which Zaritt repeatedly comes on too strong in his embraces. Each time, Driscoll, using hand gestures and verbal cues, tried to tell him how she wants to be held.

Other times, their partnering puts one person in a precarious position as when Driscoll, on one foot, leans further back than seems possible. She puts a great deal of trust in her partner to keep her from falling. This time, he comes through.

“This Land Is Your Land”

Mark Haim’s “This Land Is Your Land,” performed in the Nasher Museum of Art’s atrium, is, on the surface, much more straightforward and accessible. Yet, the variations to the basic structure -- a group of dancers, in a horizontal line, walking in 8-part time to country music -- affirm individuality and add interest.

Sometimes this work prompts laughter as when dancers, holding beer cans in paper bags, loll their heads and move with a drunken-sailor, off-balance gait while at the same time never missing a beat in the eight-part rhythm.

At other times, Haim’s use of such props as Starbuck’s cups and guns encourages some serious thought about gun violence and how consumerism affects the environment.

Haim has said he added the section with guns after the mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. While not done in an extremely violent way in this dance, the mere presence of an “army” of people “marching” with semi-automatic rifles slung across their backs, proves chilling. Also, even though done quickly with no anger, when dancers stop and point a pistol, pull the trigger and their hands jerk back from the recoil, this has a visceral, realistic effect.

In a much less sinister, but nonetheless concerning issue, dancers hold Starbuck’s cups and repeatedly pitch the cups into a see-though trash can that has to be emptied a number of times. As they walk and use all these disposable paper products, how big is the carbon footprint in terms of garbage and loss of oxygen-giving trees?

Body image also comes to mind in the section in which dancers appear naked. Haim has obviously chosen performers of different ages and body types for this work – a truly democratic, inclusive move especially evident as these dancers bare all. With confidence, no matter their build, they stride across the stage area, defying the idealized, perfect body images in fashion magazines and other media. The effect is to make us feel more comfortable in our own skins.