Anna Sperber
“The Tiger Situation”
Dance Theater Workshop
New York, NY
March 1-3, 2007

by Nancy Dalva
copyright ©2007, Nancy Dalva

What a marvelous title Anna Sperber has given this, her first evening length work, though after seeing it I have no idea what it might mean. If you Google “the tiger situation,” you will find lots of information about the tiger as endangered species, and a bit about tigers on the loose.

And indeed, one of the dancers looks a little tigerish; she’s got choppy orange hair and is leggy and knock-kneed. (If I weren’t thinking of tigers I’d suggest Pippi Longstocking.) But “The Tiger Situation” simply suggests itself, indeed presents itself, as a series of episodic, non-schematic movement encounters: six women, separately and in shifting combinations, engaging in brief unidentifiable dramas. They are the choreographer, and Maureen Damaso, Charlotte Gibbons, Danielle Goldman, Julie Alexander, and Noopur Singa. All of them look like real people as opposed to dancerish, which is perhaps deceptive, and intentional.

The piece begins in darkness, with the dancers pacing outside the space defined by the set, which is a series of partial walls, perhaps two feet wide and quite high, and dark, like the walls of the theater, which you can see beyond them. Then, center stage, the tiger-dancer springs into tortured action, splayed on the floor, looking like someone imprisoned in a place she wants to leave. After a while, she’s up against the back wall, edging along on tiptoe, telegraphing unease.

Meanwhile, on the left, in a shadow, another woman — the choreographer? — lies up against a wall, supporting herself on her side, as if she were trying to climb up, or perhaps though it. Soon, there will be a confrontation, and she will face the woman in the middle, in a stare down. From where I sat, I thought there would be laughter, but the encounter instead engendered tears, the kind of tears you see when you have a little child who doesn’t want to go to nursery school. So there it is, a theme: reluctance.

Sperber’s choreography is not particularly dancey, nor strictly pedestrian. Running against a wall, rolling on the floor, rough-housing, tussling, walking, and once, spooning. Hand touching is important. Contact is important. Attentiveness is important. There’s all sorts of tension in the air, but why? Twice, two women roll across the floor in an embrace. Gradually, the work accumulates.

Lighting designed by Joe Levasseur picks out dancers on the edge of the stage, sitting and watching in the shelter of the walls and changing clothes. Episodically, with no seeming through line or overall structure, they enter and leave, drop in and out, taking off and putting on spangly sweaters, swishing in glittering skirts, all gold and shimmery, the work of a designer called “Icon.” A sound score by Peter Kerlin and Joe Moniaci is as unobstrusive as the light. Indeed, the refined music, impeccable lighting, and a gloomily suggestive set — devised by the choreographer with Jeff Larson and the lighting designer — give the whole a certain gloss. The space is used thoughtfully, and the production values are excellent.

But the work is episodic, strung together, a series of things rather than a single thing — that is, a dance without an overarching structure. There is, however, momentum. By the end, all six women are on stage, paired, holding hands, and repeatedly falling backwards to the floor. It’s the opposite of the way things began, tentatively, and with reluctance. The movement feels desperate rather than happy, compulsive rather than abandoned. Again and again, backwards falls. As I recall, at the end of “The Tiger Situation,” the women are wrapped together in rest, their mission accomplished. They have dared to move.

Photos by Julieta Cervantes.

Volume 5, No. 10
March 12, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Nancy Dalva

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