Double exposure

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  August 4, 2010

With individual deranged leaps and twirls, they exploded across the space. Later, they ran as if slightly hampered, their motion impeded by an elbow that hung down, a stiff arm, a twisted leg. Gutierrez did a bizarre foxtrot with what may have been another male dancer. Both seemed to be trying to lead and trying to resist at the same time. Awkwardly, with parts of them jutting in counter-directions, they'd collapse and allow themselves to be dragged or shoved sideways. This duet in the form of a struggle could have been about anything serious, from love to the decay of the polar ice cap.

In another group episode, one person knelt in the space and inaudibly murmured something. One by one, the others joined her, adding their voices, until they were all chanting inwardly, in chorus, the way we say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Finally, after some funky, flaunty disco dancing, they were all running again, falling forward, running, and the lights blacked out. Holzer's word-light show began. White letters as tall as a person began to scroll up the back and side window walls, projected from outside into the room. The dancers' job then was to shift in line-ups from one part of the space to another. They may have been doing more than that, but in between stanzas, the black background went away and a megawatt projector light glared straight into the eyes of the audience.

The dancers walked out of the theater. The projections scrolled on, creating a beautiful, upward-moving, galactic space. Outside, projected on the walls of the building, the texts, from Szymborska's poetry, rolled up in all their slow, gigantic significance. I stayed only long enough to read a few lines. "We live in a political age. We are political people."

The next night at Jacob's Pillow, Monica Bill Barnes waved away pretension with a solo and two pieces for herself and the three women of her company (Anna Bass, Charlotte Bydwell, and Celia Rowlson-Hall). Barnes, another young New York original, is in her late 30s, a couple of years younger than Gutierrez. She's just as serious about making dances that reflect our lives, but she looks at catastrophe as if she'd been there and gotten over it. Her dances are funny, unexpected, and endearing.

She premiered Mostly Fanfare, which was commissioned by Jacob's Pillow and made in part with a Pillow Creative Residency grant. Set to jazz-backed ballads sung by Nina Simone, the dance introduced us to three performers in indeterminate circumstances. They wear short black skirts, white camisoles, and two-foot high white ostrich plumes on their heads. Linked together in perfect unison, they move forward with tiny steps in a proud phalanx, as if they were leading a flock of swans. When one of them stumbles, the other two move on without wincing. Like everything else on the program, this dance was about carrying on regardless.

The stumbler — Bass — is left behind as Barnes and Bydwell trundle away, and she continues the choreography, which at this point consists of swoopings and squattings and large gestural statements. Just as she nears one side of the space, a cardboard carton is dropped into her arms by an invisible deliverer. She understands that part of her job is to dispose of it. She carries it over to the other side and then picks up the choreography where she'd left off. Just when all seems to be going smoothly, another box. Bass takes care of it. The space becomes littered with boxes, all sizes. Flustered, annoyed, but dutiful, she deals with each intrusion and returns to her dance.

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