Performing Arts: Dance
November 1, 2019
When it comes to collaborations between titans, interested parties usually come to the work on a particular team as a way in. Prior to seeing The Day at the Joyce Theater, I had no clue who Maya Beiser was, was a casual listener of David Lang’s music, had been an admirer of Wendy Whelan’s post-City Ballet projects for some time, and bowed at the altar of Lucinda Childs.

The pair of ladies next to me was clearly on team Wendy, as evidenced by their bitter dissatisfaction at what they took to be a lack of dancing. As they made no effort to hide their frequent phone checking and mumbled kvetching, I became torn between two equally intense reactions – wanting more from both Whelan and Childs, but proud that, even if neither of them had gone far enough for me, they had at least managed to annoy these two that much.

Childs’ choreography is unmistakably hers – musically guided geometric movement, gradually revealed along spatial tracks. Divided into two halves, “The Day” cycles through a collection of interactions with props, whereas “World to Come” accumulates a more continuous idea. What gets in the way is nostalgia for the choreographer’s earlier milestones. Whelan’s navigation of fabric was first and more thoroughly explored in 1963’s Pastime, Childs’ first solo for herself; meanwhile, Joshua Higgason’s blowing up onstage action into counterpoint with itself similarly shamelessly conjures Sol Le Witt’s projection from 1979’s Dance.

Still, Whelan’s dancing is focused, exacting, and all the more naked in Childs’ trademark sparseness. However, being as in the Lucinda camp as I am, I stubbornly insist that the execution be as un-mannered as possible. When Whelan passes through a prop with a lush pas de cheval instead of a simple step forward, I lose track of the aesthetic parameters in which we are operating, and, soon after, why we are here.

Potentially helpful in answering is a string of sentences, spoken by Beiser’s recorded voice in six second intervals throughout the first half of the piece. Collected by Lang via an internet search of the phrase “I remember the day I… ,” the sentences’ conclusions are arranged in alphabetical order, randomizing outsourced, anonymous memories into an equalized expression of humanity.

What doesn’t help is Higgason’s projection collaging a bunch of Whelan’s personal photos while we hear them. Such gestures yank us from the realm of the universal into a cheap charade of identity. To then see, as Whelan rolls up in a white sheet down the ramp from which Beiser had been playing, a slow-motion video of two fellow sheets explicitly stylizing the collapse of the World Trade Center, the original impetus for Lang’s compositions is made subservient to the novelty of a collaboration spawned from his content.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

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