Soft power

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  August 4, 2008

At the ICA, the drapes covering the back and stage-right side of the space were left open. It was the first time I’d seen anything in this theater that afforded visual access to its dramatic Boston Harbor backdrop. A gauzy scrim saved us from the hot afternoon glare and revealed a pale blue sky and pale gray water. Slow-moving white boats and clouds drifted by. People of all sizes appeared in silhouette, crossed behind the dancers, moved off stage again. I think they couldn’t see in through the scrim, but they added to the audience’s sense of being part of an everyday experience.

Through all these years, Sara Rudner has preserved postmodern dancers’ ideas about drawing our attention to the ordinary and, through that process, making the ordinary special. Some sections began like games — follow the leader, stop and go on an unpredictable cue. Others comprised set phrases that were initiated by members of the group and then taken up by others. Some instructions were too complicated for the audience to decipher; others were as simple as moving in line-ups while rotating the pelvis. Whatever structure was in play, the participants could use their own timing, make their own small variations in the movement, infuse it with sensuality, uncertainty, care, exhilaration, humor, effort as they experienced each moment. Whatever instructions triggered a new turn of events, their interactions took over, and you followed them into unexpected burrows and heights of movement.

Rudner, Gould, and Boyd began “Cheek Cheek Trio” with tentative touching of their faces. As in all the gestural episodes, they kept an inner motor or a nearly imperceptible weight shift going all the time — an active stillness. Gradually their touch got even lighter. They arched back, then fell softly. They increased their intensity into swaying, vibrating, and sudden lurches out of their tight grouping. They shifted back together. In contrast to the close-in body focus of this interlude, the whole group next swept out into a beautiful, space-covering phrase called “Circles,” accompanied by sensitive percussionists, Jerome Morris with William Catanzaro at the ICA and with Martin Case in Concord. Later, the Boston dancers worked with the trio’s organic but invisible source of motion, as they clustered tightly together and changed from just one position to another, over what seemed like minutes, trying to sustain the attenuated momentum.

There were funny moments. Peggy Gould instructed the group in a little-used potential in “Face Clinic.” Can just one cheek flutter? Can you move the upper and lower parts of your face in counterpoint? Can an eyebrow move like a smile? Oh, and be sure to make it musical. Meanwhile Maggie Thom was slithering among them and Gould exhorted them to keep their concentration. The absurd results evolved into a melodramatic quartet (Lehrer, Byler, Boyd and Schlesinger-Ruedeman) where one member’s face and body suggested a character to the others. They quickly turned into clans of monsters, models, prima donnas; meanwhile the other dancers oozed around the edges of the space in something called “Meander Creep.”

Special guest artist David Parker appeared late in the proceedings to lead a snake dance. Then he picked out individuals to star in such instant improvisations as dancing really badly, being mediocre, seducing the audience, and singing “Sisters” like Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas.

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