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January 18, 2011 6:32 pm
|Homage: Rebecca Warner|
They are a good match. Playwright Richard Maxwell reinvigorates threadbare genres – the Everyman monologue, the boxing Bildungsroman – with hyper-natural dialogue delivered so woodenly that you actually begin to hear “how people articulate themselves and how they don’t”, as he has put it. Manchester native Sarah Michelson choreographs every eyelash flutter in marathon dances that expose the nature of performance – the public scrutiny, the numbing repetition. Painful analogies between performance on stage and in life unite these acclaimed iconoclasts.
But the analogies in the two-hour Devotion – choreographed by Michelson, with Maxwell writing the anchoring voiceover for beginning and end – are less painful. Devotion (on until Saturday at the Kitchen, then appearing in Minneapolis and on the west coast) is crowded with benign influences: Jesus and Mary, Adam and Eve, Cunningham, Tharp and Lucinda Childs. Its view is more dappled than dark.
Michelson still devises endurance tests for her heroic performers: for the first half hour, the voluptuously precise Rebecca Warner; for the second, the slight Welsh 14-year-old Non Griffiths surviving aerobic extremity alone and eventually with James Tyson; and finally, the comically committed Jim Fletcher keeping up with Eleanor Hullihan, as vital as a panther.
“Before the Fall,” Michelson in voiceover says, “you were happy to share your identity. Now you need to carve out your own niche. You need your space.” The carving and measuring are relentless, with dancers’ arms pointing like compass arrows, their feet tracing circles across the wide space. There is so much ground to cover.
And yet Devotion is not merely relentless. Michelson has always had an eye for movement detail, but the results didn’t always resonate. Intent on originality, she often kept the moves hermetically sealed. It was their duration and spatial configuration that counted. Now she has outed her influences, and they clarify her intent. Warner’s solo is a rich homage to Cunningham’s asymmetry and the animal exactitude of his starts and stops, but with the rhythms more declamatory and the lunges and curves more extreme. Michelson carries Cunningham forward. She borrows from Tharp even more explicitly, bringing out from under its slippery style In the Upper Room’s severe triumphalism.
Devotion is insistently patterned but also shot through with gorgeous surprises. The road is long, the dance says, but the path feels good under your feet.
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