February 12, 2017
Vicky Shick gives a charmingly hushed opening speech to Another Spell. She greets, “Welcome for coming. Thank you to Danspace.” The syntax switcheroo points appropriately to what we are about to see – combinations and reshufflings of simple material that generate both familiarity and fancy.
Present are two set pieces by Barbara Kilpatrick - textiles hoisted upon metal frames. One spreads tautly, streaked red like a butcher’s apron; the other is a long black tube with two sleeves on either end, never worn. The former is used frequently to shape the space, the latter simply presides. These structures are imperative to defining the spatial sensibility of the piece – primarily and knowingly frontal. The red piece is spun and ridden on by the cast as though it were a time machine. Other times it reinforces the idea of front by blatantly concealing someone we know is there whose feet, visible underneath, take on a personality of their own with every fidgeting toe.
Established conventional presentation makes any deviation incredibly apparent. Later in the piece the two structures form a corner that faces us, creating an alcove for dancers to inhabit, facing away from us, but visible through the metal rods like campers in a tent. Similarly, when material is plainly placed, there is often something happening too far away to be seen equally. An immediate sense of betrayal is followed by an empowerment to choose how to see.
Such spatial specificity informs how we perceive groupings of material. Dancers interact intensely, but there is little partnering that shares weight. Solo material is combined in varying proximities, or traveled as a unit. The notion of partnering becomes one of a simultaneous presence that is either engaged or not. These partnerships carve out unusual nuance in frontal presentation. Dancers facing front are not showing off for you, they are showing you that their friend, however far away, also has something to tell you. Each is an agent on her own track, happening upon another, continuing on.
The movement itself has several qualities – jointy sequencing deriving from Shick’s roots with Trisha Brown, but disconnected rather than flowed, giving a stop-motion approach to release. Also present are references to social dance – jelly-rolls, peace fingers along the eyes, and copious snapping. Technical demonstrations of passés, extensions, pliés and balances contain both the technical rigor and witty referentiality of the previous categories. The three intersect at the junctions of awkward footsteps under oscillating hips.
Another bit from Shick’s opening speech is the classic disclaimer assuring the fictional status of the characters. It is more than simply cute, as the combinations create a sense of character as defined by movement itself. Each dancer has a germ that announces that body’s presence in space. Common to all are wide-eyed deadpans and machismo mugging. From these common characterizations are common modes of interaction – chains of tender spooning, cuddle sessions that don’t resolve, and a swift dragging of another by the upper back, like a mother cat accosting her newborn. From the combination of characters and their relationships comes the character of the work itself – reproductions of themes we are culturally used to seeing separately though an indiscriminating childlike lens seeking not comfort, but satisfaction of restless and ineffable urges.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews