October 7, 2016
RoseAnne Spradlin’s Joyce Theater debut was utterly memorable. One of four choreographers presented in the two-week NY Quadrille engagement, Spradlin arrived with a storied history in the downtown dance scene. And in seventy long minutes, she made her mark at this esteemed dance venue unlike many ever have, or—dare I say—will.
Conceived and curated by Lar Lubovitch, NY Quadrille serves as the Theater’s 2016-2017 season opener, receiving a recent New York Times preview entitled “The Joyce Theater Confronts Its Own Staleness.” A platformed, rectangular stage temporarily transforms the space into a theatre-in-the-round. It’s both a nod to 18th century dance performed in this manner and an effort on The Joyce’s part to present differently. Lubovitch charged four artists to choreograph new contemporary dance works for this specific stage and type of audience experience.
Spradlin created “X,” a trio exploring “body consciousness and structural form.” The world premiere began with dancer Kayvon Pourezar out of sight, not quite beat-boxing, but certainly noisemaking. He hops onto to the stage and falls into a bout of rolling, flailing, and audible convulsing. Connor Voss joins, lying on top of him, slowly pushing down his body. It’s a surprisingly tender moment, quickly forgotten as Voss flips upside down and Pourezar’s nervous hair pulling becomes frantic. Dancer Asli Bulbul then enters, unraveling in a solo of angular, slicing arm movement. A free-standing, metal bar is carried into the space, followed by three others, which the dancers balance on, run laps between, and straddle and dangle from.
Meanwhile, visual artist Glen Vogel’s sound design is stark. Each section layers one or two repeated sounds with that of another, intermittently broken by silence. Connor Voss’ costume design is subtle, simple—high waisted, wide-legged pants; Bulbul wore a shirt at one point, but it was stripped off early. Joe Levasseur’s lighting design fares the same, but ends up taking on the (likely unanticipated) role of highlighting an increasingly agitated, impatient audience.
Everything changes when the trio begins The Movement Phrase. In short, their task becomes carrying a bar across the space, then a fellow dancer upside down, who is flipped to be perched on the bar. An excerpt of “Love’s Theme” repeats each time. Over and over this movement continues with the four bars moved back and forth, from one side of the stage to the next. Its painful repetition very much becomes the essence of the work.
The dancers’ focus and dedication throughout this movement, which evolves into a trying, physical challenge, is to be commended. The same cannot be said for the audience. Many began to leave, some loudly and visibly frustrated. A patron in the back yelled, “Stop!” at the performers, causing laughter and talking. I was asked to stand mid-performance so that the majority of row M could exit.
Of course, the dancers continued and the show did indeed go on. However, most of us remaining were faced with the inability to give the work our full attention, myself included. It truly was a challenge. At last the lights went out. The diminished audience, in solidarity, expressed sweet relief. I imagine the dancers felt the same.
Spradlin’s knack at crafting challenging work is not new; in fact, it’s her forte. This time her work, coupled with the experience of its performance, highlighted many timeless issues of the arts. I left contemplating audience expectations and behavior and the divide between downtown dance and the more “mainstream,” concert dance housed uptown. I even considered the broad and ever-debatable questions like, ‘What is art?” Those who gave up on Spradlin were clearly reconciling with some of these topics as well, knowingly or not.
One thing is certain: “X” succeeded in making an impact, for better or worse.
To harken back to The New York Times article, if The Joyce is in fact confronting its own “staleness” with this program—and the work of RoseAnne Spradlin—perhaps so too should all of us, as audience members.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson