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BWW Review: GALLIM Dance Company's BLUSH is Anything But Shy

Debuting at the Chelsea Factory, BLUSH is 60 intense, evocative minutes where even the stillness crackles.

BWW Review: GALLIM Dance Company's BLUSH is Anything But Shy

Blush (verb): 1. To show shyness, embarrassment, or shame by becoming red in the face.

To be clear, there is nothing shy about Andrea Miller's BLUSH, performed by the GALLIM dance company at the Chelsea Factory now through April 30th.

Miller, the resident artist at the Factory, brings her 2009 classic to the stage this year to chase one of the most elusive human expressions - the blush - in a sixty-minute flood of visceral theatricality and physical virtuosity. Set in a boxing ring-like arena, BLUSH is an intimate exploration of human physiology set to the music of Mannyfingers, Andrej Przybytkowski, Chopin, Kap Bambino, Arvo Part and Wolf Parade.

The work, grounded in movement, is complex and brutal. It is meant to mine the unfathomable, not necessarily the embarrassment or shyness or shame that rises to the cheeks when one forgets to unmute on Zoom or becomes tongue-tied at an important moment. BLUSH is far more primitive. When the lights, designed by Vincent Vigilante, rise on a single dancer he appears almost embryonic. In fact, the stage is womb-like; filled with warm darkness and the unspecified tensions of a new coming. Eye contact matters and not just because the space is as intimate as a living room, but because there's something eerie in the dancer's red-white stare as it bores into the audience's very soul.

BWW Review: GALLIM Dance Company's BLUSH is Anything But Shy In black tunics and chalk-white body paint made streaky with sweat, costume designer Jose Solis turns the six dancers into a kind of gothic space alien. The paint clings to well-defined muscle that twitches and twists, while the tunics expose where limbs collide and contort. Orange-white light flares at the back of the stage like Hellfire. Shadows skitter across the back wall. The dancers grow ever bigger. The Factory, the perfect space for this work, is filled to the very seams with unease.

The movement, bound together by six different songs, creates a brinkmanship between what can be contained and what longs to break free. It's a frantic, frenetic experience that the dancers easily control. A tidal wave of emotion lives in an outstretched hand, a cavernous ribcage or a turned head. Every joint is choreographed. Spinal cords twist like they are in desperate need of an exorcism. It never appears fun, and yet every second is beautiful.

BWW Review: GALLIM Dance Company's BLUSH is Anything But Shy While Miller's work is far too sophisticated for the majority of modern dance cliches, there is some floor-crawling that is easily forgiven as a motif. The running, though stylized, is an exhausting use of the space. At one point a dancer runs -- and runs and runs -- in a circle like an unhinged tetherball. Motif again? Possibly. Slightly nauseating? Absolutely.

What elevates the piece, however, is the work done in trios and duos. Dancers casually soar into the air only to be caught by a single foot or hand or shoulder. Thighs are something that can be stood upon as easily as a chair, while the very sinews of a neck are used as handholds to launch into space. There's a maddening uncertainty as to whether the next trick will land. It always does -- and with breathless grace. The physical intimacy (the dancers do everything but kiss) turns movement into performance.

More than a minute of the piece occurs in pure silence. True quiet is a rarity in New York City, and its effect is easily forgotten. As the dancers move, the tranquil hush is calming, like a much needed exhale. The piano ballad that follows the quiet is soft, gracious, and yet still somehow unrelenting. Two dancers push and pull. Rejection looms in every step. Is this love? Grief? Is this what a blush feels like? So far the only thing that feels certain is pain. Even when the music shifts again and the ominous mood is meant to lift, it clings on. In the finale, the dancers erupt in a riot on the stage and yet when the applause dies down, that eerie wrongness still lingers.

So many moments felt like a mental breakdown. Perhaps that madness is what lies just outside the theater, or perhaps that's what audiences will leave behind.

BLUSH, from Brooklyn-based movement company GALLIM, debuts at the
landmarked Chelsea Factory (547 West 26th St., between 10th and 11th Avenues)
for seven performances only from April 26-30. Tickets start at $30. Vaccination and ID required. Masks must be worn in the theatre.

Photo Credit: Christopher Jones

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