Moving to a Disco Beat, or the Clatter of Household Objects
Gia Kourlas, New York Times
Gia Kourlas, New York Times
Follow your bliss. Depending on your mood, that phrase is either enlightening or exasperating. Both could be used to describe Michelle Boulé’s latest work, “The Monomyth,” which takes partial inspiration from the writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell, who coined the saying. It also refers to his vision of a hero’s journey: Embark on an adventure, face a crisis, and, in the end, emerge transformed.
In “The Monomyth,” which runs through Saturday at the Chocolate Factory, Ms. Boulé is a feminist heroine for whom the notion of mythmaking takes place in the subtle transformations of her body. Over the weekend at Danspace Project, another choreographer, Stacy Matthew Spence, looked at how an environment provides sanctuary in “This home is us.”
Just as Ms. Boulé explored the hidden spaces of her body, Mr. Spence excavated the private space of home in a work featuring himself and Joanna Kotze. As their lean, articulate bodies emphasized angles and lines, Jesse Stiles and Roarke Menzies created ambient sounds with objects and instruments scattered throughout the space.
In the end, it wasn’t enough that each piece was deliberate. Ms. Boulé, known for her performances in works by Miguel Gutierrez, and Mr. Spence, formerly of the Trisha Brown Dance Company, are ravishing, nuanced dancers, but choreography, for each, seems to be a way to explore the art of dancing, not dance-making.
For “This home is us,” Mr. Spence transported objects from his and Ms. Kotze’s homes into the performance space with the intention of creating a third one — inhabited by the performers and the audience — in the theater. The stage was bordered by mugs, a teakettle and even a low wooden table. (Sadly for the audience on such a humid, airless night, he didn’t bring any fans.)
Masking tape was used throughout the piece: The dancers taped lines on the floor to mark territory, and those stark shapes frequently mirrored the elongated precision of Mr. Spence’s and Ms. Kotze’s extended legs and arms as they seemingly sketched geometric patterns onto the air.
But the choreography also had a wallpaper effect — ordered, handsome and monotonous. The piece’s sound component, featuring electronic musical instruments designed by Ali Momeni, was its most tactile element; performed live by Mr. Stiles and Mr. Menzies, it included household noises, like the rattling of wooden hangers or the pouring of water into a cup, alongside the “Chipchestra,” a hybrid instrument used to record and amplify sounds.
Ms. Boulé, in “The Monomyth,” opted for disco. (Curtis Tamm’s sound design also included electronic noises.) At the start, she walked stealthily onto the stage, a contrast to how slowly she raised her arms slightly behind her back to an empowering, percussive beat.
They were her wings, but she couldn’t fly. Ms. Boulé’s feet, parallel yet staggered, were planted in place while she rocked back and forth. It was hypnotic — she can make simple acts appear virtuosic — but soon her face got involved, and an ecstatic smile morphed into a tragic frown. Ms. Boulé’s control of her body is fascinating; her acting rarely matches up.
In motion, she’s different: She swept across the stage as if she were wandering through a maze, and here you could sense elusive myths being revealed and unlocked. But Ms. Boulé spread herself thin, and her injections of humor — the disco music, using a banana as a telephone or changing the shape of her body by inserting balloons under her clothing — felt forced, almost as if we were watching a demo reel. The bits didn’t turn into bliss.
Gia Kourlas for the New York Times – May 23, 2017.