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Henry Baumgartner

Pele Bauch's Monstrous Visitation

Pele Bauch and dancers crawl along the floor in "-ism." Photo by Steven Schreiber.

Pele Bauch
Joyce SoHo
July 12-14, 2007
reviewed by Henry Baumgartner on July 14, 2007

The first two pieces on New York choreographer Pele Bauch's program at Joyce SoHo, though certainly individual enough, were hardly shocking.

"Pedestal," an elegant duet for Abby Man-Yee Chan and Christine Sandifer to a score by Alon Nechushtan, proceeds by slow movements that arrive at a pose, hold it momentarily, and then travel on to the next. Intriguing curly arm movements often devolve into sweeping curves. The dancers usually stay in contact but maintain a feeling of open space between them. The dancers also play with the shadows they cast on the Joyce SoHo's white walls. The result was very appealing. This piece, in fact, landed Bauch in the final round of the A.W.A.R.D. choreography competition.

"Crowd to One" is a short solo for Bauch herself, bathed in pale swimming-pool-colored light, to quiet piano music (score by Kevin Volans and Matteo Fargion). As often as not facing away from us, Bauch executes her unhurried, graceful, stretchy, curvy movements and gentle 360-degree turns.

These two pieces were, so to speak, of a piece, so the enigmatically titled "-ism," the third and final piece on the bill, came as a bit of a surprise. In a corner of the playing area, a huge rat's nest composed of what look like torn-up white garbage bags--actually wax paper--slowly begins to levitate. Beneath this is revealed a pile of dancers, their breathing unusually loud (though they are not, in fact, miked), illuminated only by a low sidelight. Nothing much happens for a time, except that we get to listen to the spooky moaning and hooting of Ingram Marshall's score. Slowly the dancers start to crawl and slither, mostly on their backs. Their movement looks like a distinctly nonhuman means of locomotion.

It seems, in fact, like some horrible form of infestation. When the music dies down, we hear the sound--a rustling, clicking sound, as of some disagreeable form of insect life, and plenty of it, too. A million cockroaches, maybe. What actually prove to be causing this quiet but unsettling noise are wads of wax paper the dancers have stuck inside their costumes--simple, but effective. By this time several of them have inserted themselves among the first few rows of spectators, and these alien creatures now actually begin to abduct innocent members of the audience, using their feet to nudge the chairs slowly into the middle of the stage space.

I notice that, in enumerating this catalogue of horrors, I haven't mentioned that I loved the piece. Towards the end, the clicking and slithering gives way to something more graceful as the dancers, having pulled out some of the wax paper, stand up and execute a sort of spaced-out dance, somewhat reminiscent of the earlier dances on the program. While this more dancey bit at the very end is perhaps a shade anticlimactic, I won't complain. One of the drawbacks of having observed downtown dance for a long time is that, when you are in a certain weary mood, everything can come to look like something you saw a few decades ago. But not this time.


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