Richard Move Moves

Richard Move/MoveOpolis
Dance Theater Workshop
New York, NY
December 21, 2006

by Susan Reiter
copyright 2006, Susan Reiter

For his second New York presentation of the year, Richard Move veered away from the stagey, somewhat camp histrionics (performers lip-syncing to scenes from movie epics, ‘80s pop icon Debbie Harry singing and portraying Athena, a central role originally crafted for Mikhail Baryshnikov) of his “The Show (Achilles’ Heels)” and ventured into what is, for him, quite a daring direction: focusing on choreography in a purer, more fundamental way. This compact, intriguing program did not lack for additional elements — most notably, Charles Atlas’ intricate, mesmerizing video for the program’s major new work — but it was clearly Move’s attempt to create an evening in which movement spoke for itself.

His unforgettable impersonation of Martha Graham over the years — most recently and stylishly, at the Graham company’s 80th-anniversary gala — and his inimitable style and cheekiness in projects incorporating stylized elements from the downtown club scene are so well known that one could not approach this evening of choreography without expectations — or perhaps anti-expectations, of what he would purposefully NOT be doing on this occasion.

Presented last summer (with the same performers) at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the two-part evening offered intriguing glimpses of a choreographic sensibility still in formation. The first half interspersed a trio set to Verdi operatic selections with two unrelated solos. Each section of “Verdi Divertimento” ended rather abruptly, leaving a “to be continued” sensation, before making way immediately for the striking solos. This made it hard to recall, or care much, about the ongoing Verdi interactions. In first of them, the dynamic Graham company dancer Blakeley White McGuire, Kevin Scarpin and Kristen Joseph Irby, in soft, casual tops and pants, moved with purposefully non-glamorous efficiency as the triumphal march from “Aida’ was heard. Some of her poses lightly evoked Egyptian imagery, and at one point she was hoisted and held high by the two men. They struck a final pose and then gave way to the most riveting work of the program, “Lust.” When the trio resumed, to Marian Anderson’s recording of the celebrated aria “O Don Fatale,’ McGuire exited a moment after entering, leaving the two men to wind their arms around each other’s waist in a duet of formal restraint and hesitant connection. She returned, literally coming between them. Following another solo, “Dilemma,” the final portion had the trio mostly rooted in place, performing intricate unison gestures as Maria Callas’ impassioned voice delivered another aria. In the final moments, they ran and scattered out into space.

Other than a slightly mocking contrast between the brisk, no-nonsense delivery of their unemotional movements and the impassioned, florid music, there was not much to focus on despite the dancers’ crisp performances. But both solos made a much stronger impact. “Lust,” which was originally a solo performed by Helen Alexopoulos as part of a multi-choreographer “Seven Deadly Sins” project at Jacob’s Pillow in 2001. Now danced with searing intensity and diabolical focus by Catherine Cabeen, it seemed to embody the inner monologue of a performer on display — perhaps a go-go dancer, something Move knows something about. Positioned downstage and mostly rooted in place, Cabeen twisted, balanced, reached and stretched with fiercely slow deliberateness as a loud, incessantly pounding score played. Her sleek simple unitard left her body open for inspection. The solo was sensual in a disturbing way, as her blank, distanced presentation undercut the physical allure of her long, pliable body. A sense of horror — at the plight of being scrutinized, or at being unable to escape from voyeuristic eyes — intruded when she opened her mouth wide into a grotesque expression, or when she extended her hand with splayed fingers.

Miguel Anaya was the muscular, intrepid performer in “Dilemma,” which began with him confined to a small square of light. He hinged backwards, rippled an arm, and when the pulse of the luscious, pulsating music (by French-Algerian pop musician Cheb Khaled) picked up, he expanded his territory to the full stage, tracing its perimeter with stag leaps and articulating his arms and hands in very specific and intriguing ways. The solo invited us to admire the taut power of Anaya’s shirtless physique, and connected artfully with the haunting, sensual pulse of the music.

The program’s second half consisted of a major new 30-minute work, “Towards the Delights of the Exquisite Corpse,” for which Atlas provided a nonstop stream of fascinating, evolving video images that filled the entire rear wall. It also featured Hilton Als’ compilation of music by the under-appreciated, and clearly important, composer Julius Eastman, as well as some polemical words of the composer, and — for some reason — a disturbing song by the Crystals that suggests a battered woman taking pleasure in her treatment. There was an awful lots to take in and absorb, and much of the time the movement was not what grabbed the attention.

Atlas certainly seized our eyes from the start, with imagery featuring bright, unexpected colors and what seemed like animated fingerprints. Hollywood movie imagery (a glamorous woman’s face being caressed in close-up) and a multitude of shifting, unexpected visuals followed. Meanwhile, the four dancers (McGuire, Cabeen, Scarpin and Irby) got things off to a slow start. Wearing pearl-grey hooded jumpsuits, they went through a series of basic yoga positions — headstand, plow, wheel and remained close to the floor for quite a while. Eventually they peeled off the jumpsuits to reveal skin-tight, shimmering rose-pink unitards. They made it off the floor, but much of what they did came across as schematic and plodding. Move did create some intrigue when one man was blindfolded, and each of the other dancers took turns holding and manipulating him. Were they his guides, or his tormentors? But the piece never gathered the force and focus to match the nervous intensity and vigorous urgency of Eastman’s music, and the layers of intriguing elements that Move assembled did not achieve the larger, more powerful impact he may have intended.

Photos, all by Julieta Cervantes:
First: Blakeley White McGuire, Kristen Joseph Irby, Kevin Scarpin in "Verdi Divertimento."
Second: Catherine Cabeen in "Lust".
Third: Blakeley White McGuire, Kevin Scarpin in "Toward the Delights of the Exquisite Corpse."

Volume 5, No. 1
January 2, 2006

copyright ©2006 Susan Reiter

©2006 DanceView