STATE OF DARKNESS
January 7, 2021
At a time of great political and social upheaval, on a night when the nation's capital was ravaged by mobs, Molissa Fenley's selection of Igor Stravinsky's harrowing Le Sacre du printemps captured the discord shaking the nation.
In one of her boldest moves, post modern dancer Fenley reinterpreted The Rite of Spring by fashioning a 35- minute marathon solo in 1988 now available through Jan. 10 on the Joyce Theater website. Originally performed by Ms. Fenley, years later she draped NYC Ballet principal dancer Peter Boal in her solo State of Darkness. It was unforgettable.
Now, in the age of social distancing, Ms. Fenley was invited by the Joyce Theater to recast the solo on seven dancers: Jared Brown, Lloyd Knight, Sara Mearns, Shamel Pitts, Annique Roberts, Cassandra Trenary, and Michael Trusnovec.
Due to time limitations, I was only able to view 3 interpretations. All were fascinating in different ways, but the one that felt most shattering was Michael Trusnovec, former lead dancer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
A physically as well as intellectually exhausting production, Trusnovec once again, claims his place in the annals of great performances. When the initial notes of the bassoon float in the air, Trusnovec's alert body emerges from the darkness. Clad in black tights and bare torso his body, illuminated in high-contrast lighting, sharpens his musculature.
Within the first few seconds, Trusnovec's arms snap up to the side, underlined by the white light.
That one sharp motion was thrilling and reminded me of a similar moment: the heart stopping second in Balanchine's Serenade when rows of ballerinas in filmy dresses suddenly flip their feet apart from parallel to turned-out position. That act sends a bolt of electricity through the audience.
Trusnovec's interpretation is marked by the transformation of a human into a prehistoric, predatory creature sensing danger. His spareness and purity of movement expands the stark choreography to encompass a universe of threats and lyrical nuance. Technically, he remains formidable. From windmilling arms, to loping runs and skittering feet, he speaks the language of dance with a specificity and an emotion rarely equalled.
Another glorious dancer, Sara Mearns, principal dancer with NYC Ballet, placed her own stamp on the solo. Long and fair of hair and skin, Mearns dons her signature grandeur and largess to the solo. Less angular, more fluid, she locates a halo of light inside the dance. Releasing her back into a rainbow arch, the music surges through her interpretation.
At one point, Mearns raises on half-point, and arches back -- barely admitting to that small move's difficulty. And that's what Fenley manages throughout the solo--imposing technically difficult details inside seemingly simple combinations.
Finally, an exciting new dancer, Jared Brown sailed into his role. Sadly, the high-contrast lighting that dramatized both Trusnovec and Mearns, muddled Brown's dark skinned body. The light was too low. There was not enough contrast between Brown's body, the black background, black floor, black tights and brown skin.
Theater light must be increased when being viewed through a camera in order to be experienced the same way-- particularly when a camera is reading people- of-color.
Fortunately, I've seen this young man dance live on stage, and he's impressive. Despite the viewing difficulties, I could see Brown soar through the piece, adding an element of fragility and defiance to his interpretation. But too often, his body faded in the shadows. Frustrating.
An exciting project, Fenley's State of Darkness claims a hold on viewers. It's obvious all three artists are powerhouse dancers at different stages in their careers who took a mighty risk and grew mightily as a result of this experiment.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis