A Time for Dance: New Works at Dance Theater Workshop and the Joyce

Raimund Hoghe is a little man with a spinal deformity who was once Pina Bausch’s dramaturge. He was at Dance Theater Workshop recently, in a piece made by himself called Sans-titre–Without Papers. But who was the paperless immigrant, Hoghe or his partner in this two-man exhibition, the Congolese dancer and choreographer Faustin Linyekula?

First, Hoghe paces in slow motion back and forth across the stage. Linyekula, a painfully thin man with a gleaming black torso, does it, too. There’s a lit candle upstage. There’s a pile of largish pebbles downstage. Hoghe inches around the perimeter of the stage carefully setting down perhaps a hundred blank white pieces of paper. (Don’t worry: Later on–much later on–he’ll make the same journey in reverse, picking them up. No littering.)

Linyekula, shirtless now, has an extended solo, undulating, his back rippling, arms extended, fingers splayed. It’s impressive. But what he mostly does is play with his pebbles, laying them out in patterns, draping them on his neck and back as he strains from his face-down position on the floor. Soon, Hoghe has his shirt off and is belly-down on the floor, with Linyekula placing the pebbles on his neck and back–and, yes, on his hump. Well, if Hoghe doesn’t mind, who am I to object?

 

NEXT UP AT DTW was a work by the much-admired Faye Driscoll titled There is so much mad in me. She definitely is mad (as in angry, not crazy), but she’s also talented, inventive, funny. Her nine dancers in their ultra-casual clothes are all mad, too. Most of the time, in fact, they’re in a rage. There’s a long, drawn-out, ugly fight between two guys; other dancers tear at each other in fury, turning sex into war–except when it’s a (violent) joke.

There’s screaming. There’s shrieking. Everything is assaultive. Even the audience is assaulted, when a hitherto mild man turns into a torturing prison guard–Abu Ghraib? Guantánamo?–and having made all his colleagues flatten themselves on the ground, rushes up into the audience and forces a presumably complicit woman to do the same. Agitprop rides again. 

There’s a parody of a deviant-sex talk show. There’s Oprah, giving away cars. There’s a frenzied guy climbing the walls. But there’s also a calm young woman who wanders into the melee and, eventually, in a lovely voice, sings, “When heaven comes down, what does it look like when God is all around?” However affecting, this consolation isn’t quite earned and doesn’t last. Soon the madness is back full-force.

Yes, this too is concept art, but even if it’s uneven, it’s justified by the integrity and inventiveness of the movement.

 

MEANWHILE, AT THE Joyce, we had the renowned Batsheva company from Israel. The dancers are formidable–solid, powerful, expressive. If Faye Driscoll’s gang is assaultive, the Batshevas are assertive, verging on aggressive; they’re not in opposition, they’re just being themselves. 

This season they did not put their best feet forward. The program, called Project 5, was made up of snatches of this, bits of that, all by the company’s director, Ohad Naharin. George & Zalman had music by Avro Pärt (will it never stop?) and intoned sophomoric lyrics by Charles Bukowski (“Make money but don’t work too hard, a house, a car, pay your taxes … fuck, copulate … It’s bad manners to let anyone know you shit”). Five women in nice little black dresses pose and thrust. This was all just as uninteresting as it sounds.

In B/olero, two women were doing synchronized dancing. It might have been more effective underwater, as synchronized swimming, but I doubt it: Nothing can save ballets set to Ravel’s Bolero, and the synthesized version used here (from Tomita’s Greatest Hits) made things even worse.

What to say about Park: three women with microphones. If only they had been the Supremes.

The program was partially rescued by Naharin’s Black Milk, in which the evening’s five women, in beautiful pale floating culottes, smear mud on themselves. There are ecstatic runs, explosive leaps. Finally, one of them washes the black from her face and body, redeemed. None of this is especially original, but it’s strong and–yes–assertive. Watching Black Milk, I kept thinking how appropriate it would look on the Ailey company. Then I remembered that the Aileys once did dance Black Milk

For the record: Project 5 was also performed by five male dancers, but how much difference could that have made? The entire program was so misjudged that not even a third gender could have vivified it.   

rgottlieb@observer.com

A Time for Dance: New Works at Dance Theater Workshop and the Joyce