DanceView Times, New York edition
For those who might squirm a bit when a choreographic moment puts a dancer's crotch more or less in our face (and perhaps wonder whether the dancer feels awkward in that position), Roseann Spradlin's Under/world tells us to get over it, quickly. Just about every inch of her three dancers' anatomy is in our face.
This was my belated first encounter with Spradlin's work, given that she has major reviews (New York Times, Village Voice) dating back to 1990 in her press kit. The word "raw" tends to appear frequently in coverage of her dances, and these performances of her two most recent works certainly had a clinical tone. They let the audience in on edgy, intensely private, at times animalistic encounters that in no way felt refined or smoothed over with a performance veneer.
During most of the 45-minute under/world, which premiered in November 2002 and won Bessie awards for both choreography and its three performers, the dancers have some intimate portion of their bodies exposed. Spradlin doesn't ease the audience into things: when Tasha Taylor, Walter Dundervill, Athena Malloy and Tasha Taylor matter-of-factly enter down a "runway" that bisected one section of the audience, Dundervill is wearing a tiny red bra and nothing else. Malloy is topless. They engage in a series of swooping moves during which Dundervill partners one, then the other, holding them briefly in stylized embraces.
They then proceed to explore their own and each bodies, in various stages of undress, in a dispassionate manner, taking on a series of odd and intimate tasks with obvious dedication but with an eerie sense of disengagement. Periodically, they matter-of-factly head up the "runway" to an area at the top of the stairs (and behind one portion of the audience, which is seated on two adjacent sides of the large, open space). That is where they add, discard or change items of clothing, but sometimes they go up and return without having made any changes.
There is something fascinating yet unnerving in the way this trio takes on Spradlin's assignments. Clearly a great deal of trust between them, and faith in Spradlin's vision, lies behind their ability to focus so intently on movement that asks them to present themselves with such openness, with nothing to hide behind.
In one extremely intimate encounter that remained with me long after, Taylor (wearing just panties and a garter belt) and Dundervill (who had donned a black dance belt and dark hooded sweatshirt) alternate roll and grapple on the floor, with him tickling her mercilessly, and then suddenly stop short with him cradled in her arms, suckling on her breast. They continued, alternating between the playful, sensual tickling and the mother-and-child image, for a while, before it was time to move on to the next task.
When one of the performers was not involved in the action, he or she was usually standing at the perimeter watching. Spradlin alternated duets or trios in which flesh met flesh, with private moments such as Dundervill endlessly undulating his hips, rising and sinking, with his back to the audience—a sad go-go dancer lost in his own world.
Spradlin reportedly drew he inspiration from photographs of the city's fetish scene. That would seem to create expectations of a sleaziness that the work did not display. Even when a long shiny collar and leash were used as a prop, it was more in the spirit of exploration, as Malloy put it on and slowly crawled backwards along the floor, rather than to introduce images of humiliation. Her dancers showed us a great deal of themselves - but how much did they reveal?
For the first half ("gravity ball") of under/world, Gavin Byars' music included slow, steady arpeggios and a haunting interlude for clarinet and cello. Kenneth Atch;ey's score for the second half ("night sweating") was a slow crescendo of gushing water sounds that incrementally increased the level of tension as the action progressed.
Atchley also provided the electronic score for Rearrangement (or a Spell for Mortals), a strangely opaque new duet, which opened with an extended side-by-side sequence in which Malloy and Dundervill rolled, jacknifed and unfolded along the floor, each clutching a red binder. He wore a filmy skirt and black t-shirt, while she had a short draped tunic with a busy geometric design. In both cases, their rumps and thighs were exposed for our inspection as they proceeded methodically through their paces.
Once they were vertical, the activity continued to be ungainly, at times somewhat spastic. Their demeanors were grim, their connection or relation to each other difficult to decipher. Perhaps the two larger red books (scripts?) that appeared at the end of the piece signified some kind of closure, but they only added to the intriguing questions.
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