BWW Reviews: ALISON CHASE PERFORMANCE, Defying Physics
For centuries concert dance has been preoccupied with transcending gravity. From Italian Commedia performers, who dazzled with their stunts, to Marie Tagolini's ethereal pointe work in "La Sylphide," photorealistic illusions of flight have stood as a high water mark in dance craft. The dancers of "Alison Chase Performance," through the stunning engineering of Ms. Chase's choreography, consistently create astounding imagery that defy laws of physics.
"Drowned," a world premier, opened the four-part program. The work is framed within an unnecessarily complex kabuki/primitivist drama. In this drama, a drowned man washes on shore in a jungle. The primate community in the jungle is alarmed by the new arrival. At the piece's end, the man returns to the sea. While a great deal occurs to the primitive community before the man's exit, with scenes depicting violence, romance, and family clearly presented, the story is neither elusive enough for me to become lost in the meditative visuals nor defined enough to be appreciated in terms of plot structure.
The performance visuals and dance execution however are astonishing. The portrayal of the drowned man is immensely well constructed. The drowned performer bypasses the uncanny valley through a convincing display of lifelessness while simultaneously being put through unimaginable physical rigors. This same marriage of discipline and imagination is found in several artistic vistas. A scene where a character gets lost within a taunt fabric being stretched to hold her by the other dancers who are hidden behind it is beautiful in its simplicity. The performance also features videography by Derek Dudek and photgraphy by Sean Kernan which, when occupying the realm of metaphor, create vast hypnotic landscapes. Lighting by Stephen Strawbridge in this, as well as the third and fourth portion of the program, sculpt the performers well, while simultaneously communicating with the story. The sound by Paul Sullivan features a blend of photorealistic sound effects and percussive original music composition.
"Red Weather," displays six of the performers dressed in contemporary clothing. The piece features a powerful and intimate partnering by two men in the cast, as well as well formed ensemble interaction. Though it is in the performance of a woman consistently lifted by two male puppeteers as she torments a male cast member that the work exhilarates. Seemingly disinterested with both defying gravity and the gentlemen aiding her in doing so, the performer remains present to her apparent prey with an affectless intensity. Her frictionless grace as she maneuvers through the air makes her more akin to a falling dagger than a sylph. This work was accompanied by Rob Flax on the violin, and his presence on the stage, beyond tangibly featuring the talent, enforces a social sophistication within these character interactions.
In "Devil Got My Woman" a courtship is undertaken with comedic flair. Perhaps with homage to choreographers such as Charles Weidman, the vaudevillian character interaction within the skeletal cubist home, designed by Mark Kinschi and Mia Kanazawa, is easily recognizable and bursts forth multiple opportunities for seemingly spontaneous stunts. With the home doubling as jungle gym the male and female partners fall and catch one another with practiced precision. This work is accompanied by a phenomenal jazz composition by Paul Sullivan. While the program is framed with works of decisively eastern influence, "Devil Got My Woman" takes its aesthetic catalogue from the American dance pioneers. From the aforementioned Weidman to character interaction which wouldn't be lost on Jerome Robbin's, stage to a set that looks as though it was sketched from Martha Graham's imagination, "Devil Got My Woman" is a performance which doesn't attempt to evade American social recognition.
The final work of the evening, "Tsu-Ku-Tsu," is Alsion Chase's most symphonic composition of her dance aesthetic. The opening is simple, glacial, and powerful. Three women stand statuesque on the hunched backs of three men as they glide across the stage. Following this simply orchestrated intensity the performers fill the space as numerous concoctions featuring anatomical bending and gravity defying machinations take stage. At this point in the evening a law in diminishing returns does surface with stunts that awe at the outset going unrecognized for their aesthetic worth. The challenge on the men to maintain esoteric dancerly presence through dangerous movements is abandoned as they deliver their focus towards an action's completion rather than its present musicality. The costuming in this piece, as well as the first, is grounded in eastern influence through designs by Angelina Avallone.
The performance in all four parts rage through nearly two hours of intensive dance. Endurance must be applauded in these performers who certainly left their most tasking presentation for last. The power in Ms. Chase's choreography is undeniable as feats of engineering meld the laws of physics. What is seen on her stage will certainly not be seen elsewhere. One views her work like a magician's, knowing that there must be unseen mechanics creating the impossibilities on stage, secrets that the cast never betray.