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Underground Dance

Something new in the dance world
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Thu Oct 13th, 2016

Maggie Cloud, Jennifer Lafferty, Heather Lang, Stuart Singer, Marilyn Maywood Yahel

In Catacomb at Bard College’s LUMA Theater, choreographer Beth Gill presents minimalist micro-dance. This often involves short, abrupt movements, or slow agonizing movements on the part of dancers who must discover balance within athletic awkwardness. This is the imaginative terrain where dance meets yoga. This type of dance is symbolically psychological, depicting emotions in gestures, whether elegant, angry, or sad. Time is both elongated and abbreviated. The format demands allegory or parable. One of the obvious effects in this production is the satiric depiction of people as possessing some characteristics and habits of insects.  

There were four dancers: Maggie Cloud, Jennifer Lafferty, Heather Lang, Stuart Singer, Marilyn Maywood Yahel. Extraordinary demands were made upon all of them and they performed well, evoking tension, aspiration, conflict. Singer’s role was principally to be a reproductive machine. His mate was a casualty of this limitation. Woman number 2 in white appears to have a crush on the male’s mate as she flits sexually through their dreams, but nothing at all comes of this. Malicious woman number 3 in pink shows up and appears, after much witchery and effort on her part, to come between the two happy lovers. Their presumably “happy” family is not broken up, yet their sexuality becomes frozen—they turn into statuesque “dead” corpses, stolid in estrangement.

Woman number 4 in black appears three-quarters through the 60 minute production. She has such buoyant inquisitiveness that she resembles a bird. She finds herself attracted to Woman number 2, who at first does not respond, but whose yearnings slowly surface. Woman number 2 awaits the embrace from Woman number 4, yet that resolution never occurs. Both women seem to be afraid of loving other women, hence the drama’s title, alluding to forbidden acts underground.

This scenario resembles the plot of a novel without the resonance of shimmering social pageant. The narrow focus of the moral appears as much of a burden to the audience as well as the characters who continue to be tormented by manic sexual drive. This tragedy remains eloquently ambivalent about sex, which appears comically awkward at its best. Ambivalence lingers over whether it is better to surrender to sexual drive, or to avoid surrendering. We sympathize with both predicaments. This melodrama offers no answer. Sex appears as a multi-sided Gordian knot.

Jon Moniaci performed on theremin and electronic keyboard. While incremental sounds often appeared as dramatically suitable accompaniment, there arrived a moment when I wished I had packed ear-plugs. Costumes, spare yet versatile, by Baille Younkman were able to evoke the erotic as well as the mundane.  

Catacomb was birthed at the Chocolate Factory Theater in Brooklyn on May, 2016. Bessie Award-winning choreographer Beth Gill (depicted in the teaser photo) is a talented choreographer on both the emotional and intellectual tiers. Offbeat and original, it certainly is. This production runs through Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 pm. Seating is not assigned. Tickets are $25, $10 for students with ID.