September 25, 2014
Allison Meier’s style of tour guiding is such that you are not aware of her authority until you almost twist your ankle in a ditch amidst the winding ways of Greenwood Cemetery, eagerly awaiting her next anecdote. She has a buddy-buddy relationship with the Victorian burial ground that only comes with a virtuosic familiarity with the space. To begin Crossing Over, Beat Festival’s site-specific collaboration with Atlas Obscura, Meier (one of several possible guides) settles on a wide mound topped by an obelisk. A calm focus washes over, unfazed by your standing over the two hundred victims of the 1876 Brooklyn Theatre fire – the stage is set.
A woman silently thrashes in a net hoisted high in the branch of a tree. She simmers down, commencing Thresholds. Ximena Garnica and Shige Moriya’s interdisciplinary piece dissociates the senses as a disembodied voice sirens from an imperceptible source. Lights flare up on mausoleums, each a stage for a body continually falling backwards as Rachel Love sings a diatonic melody, harmonically dissociated by Jeremy Slater’s soundscape. Repetitions endow the expression of “dropping dead” with an office-like formality. The minimal development summons the sensation of Purgatory. We are there with them.
En route to the next space, Shirel Jones steps with us, covered in a thin cloak. She moves ahead, stands before us, draws us closer, and removes her vestment. Phoenix finds Jones giving grace to the rough (and on some nights, wet) pavement of the cemetery through quick and articulate steps. She is flirtatious, but in an unapproachable way – rather than bursting into flames, Jones concludes and quietly treads away, as if simply starting over is, indeed, her rebirth.
Somnabulists’ Tango brings us to the mausoleum of William Niblo, a titan of mid-19th century entertainment, who threw parties in the very space he reserved for his final rest. Michael Cusimano, too, emerges from the darkness in consort with us, continuing forward to the tomb’s front porch. The pierrot tells a tale of obsessive love, luring Chloe Markewich from a shadowed tree into partnering that is increasingly infected with the brutality twisted infatuation can transmit. Cusimano repeats a presentational gesture with a chipper smile, even after his struggle has tarnished his white makeup, the particles of which can be seen floating away in light, marrying Pierrot to Niblo’s ground of divertissement on a molecular level.
Under the arches of a crypt, singer Ismael de la Rosa lures us through a long hall past countless bundles of bodies to Martinete, in which Elisabet Torras Aguilera binds us in a secular communion through the space’s natural amplification of her feet and castanets. Flamenco, the only fully codified dance form on the program, cathartically finishes the journey, unadorned with ghostly embellishment, bringing us back into the world from which we came.
Like Love’s singing divorced from harmonic context, Crossing Over takes us from wherever we are passing Greenwood’s gothic arches to an even plane with the performers and those underground. The initiation of each piece from the tour group creates camaraderie in traversing the unknown. They reveal and are ultimately overshadowed by the character of the entire environment. Just as the piling of a couple hundred tragically deceased can somehow soothe, four pieces of radically different genres can live in a site with such potent historical charges.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews