Anchises, Abrons Arts Center, New York

This rich collaboration between choreographer Jonah Bokaer and designers Ariane and Seth Harrison takes its name from the ailing father whom loyal Aeneas carries on his back from burning Troy. But the creators seem more interested in the ruins left behind and the Rome to come. Imagining the dancers as living structures as much as people, Anchises straddles architecture and dance, awkwardness and intrigue.

The most obvious allusion to Virgil’s cherished patriarch are Valda Setterfield, 76 and as arresting as ever, and a regal Meg Harper, 65 – both with Merce Cunningham in the 1960s and 1970s. The three much younger cast members occasionally lift the women on to their backs or shoulders or suspend them overhead.

More frequent, though, are tableaux not of dependence but of connection – a chain of dancers hand in hand, for example, with one sitting on the floor, the next kneeling, the third lunging, the fourth standing. Sometimes the dancers cluster like a family. Sometimes they face each other like a ballroom couple, with a few bodies sandwiched between. Sometimes large cubes take the place of people in these deliberative arrangements.

The effect is lovely yet static. You do not feel the movement between generations or even the passage of time. In contrast, the swooping, arcing, twisting solos and duets for James McGinn and Catherine Miller (stunning) take us into the moment. Off-kilter gravity and voluptuous force are not only unusual dynamics for the choreographer. They also bring into relief the older dancers’ circumscribed possibilities.

Still, the mix of the dancey with the architectural risks inducing torpor in the viewer. With theatre, we hope to give ourselves over, or at least feel the force of our alienation. With visual art, it is often preferable to remain at a remove so as to frame what we see. Anchises strands us between these poles.

The gorgeous convergence of elements almost compensates. In the pit, father and son composers Stuart and Loren Dempster alternate the drip of hospital IV and the whirr of high-tech machinery with oceanic waves of cello and chime. Aaron Copp paints a shifting horizon on the back wall: deep blue of early night, rose of dawn, golden afternoon. At hour’s end the light comes full circle and Setterfield slowly lays her head down. ()

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