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Jack Anderson

Sprenger's Triangle


Megan V. Sprenger/mvworks: "No Where"
Performance Space 122, 150 First Avenue, East Village
Feb. 22-25, 2007, $20, $15 students and seniors
Tickets: (212) 352-3101
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, Feb. 24, 2007

Let me confess. I'm a mathematical dummy. I couldn't fathom the theoretical principles guiding Megan V. Sprenger's "No Where," for which Sara Grundel, a mathematician, served as an adviser. My mind just didn't get this dance. But my heart and nerves did.

Sprenger and Grundel based their 45-minute work on Pascal's Triangle, a sequence devised by the 17th-century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal that consists of a triangular shape with numbers placed on it in staggered rows that supposedly add up logically. I still don't quite understand how, even though the printed program offered a picture of such a triangle.

In the dance inspired by it, Brad Kisicki's triangular set with wooden walls confined three women posed in a triangular formation: Tara O'Con, Maria Parshina, and Alli Ruszkowski. They never moved much: a finger flick here, a toe wiggle there, some barely perceptible shifts of position. A sudden, but quickly suppressed, gasp came as a surprise. Occasionally, movements broadened in scale, yet no one ever moved far at any time. The choreography, and presumably the mathematics, restricted them.

Yet these little movements started hinting things. O'Con and Parshina scratched themselves, as if trying to scrape the skin from their bones. Ruszkowski's concentration was always great, sometimes even frightening. Choreographic spasms made her fling her arms and tremble. But every potentially full-out gesture was soon halted. She picked her teeth and snuffled as if with a perpetual head cold. More ominous was the moment when she compulsively rubbed her hands as if trying to cleanse them: you could imagine her a modern Lady Macbeth.

The dance, though plotless, had surprising dramatic impact. Seldom in my recent dance-going have I experienced such an intense sense of kinesthetic transfer: every twitch of a dancer's body made me want to respond with a twitch of my own until I feared I might make a public spectacle of myself.

What was happening was a reminder that the theory behind any work of art does not guarantee anything about its effectiveness. Some musical pieces composed according to 12-tone serial theories are dry as dust, others are powerful. So, too, whereas some dances based on mathematics might seem remote, "No Where" grabbed me.

More than mathematics supported Sprenger's choreography. Jason Sebastian's sonic design included such sounds as bird calls, children's voices, dog barks, traffic noises, and those distant train whistles that can be so ineffably melancholy. A program note said that, in addition to Pascal, "No Where" derived from photographs by Gregory Crewdson. Although none were shown, the note explained that Crewdson is known for "elaborately staged, surreal scenes of American homes and neighborhoods." Given that statement and Sebastian's sounds, it became possible to fantasize that Sprenger's dancers were three women trapped in lives of quiet suburban desperation. The production was, after all, titled "No Where."

It was the first offering by Room, a commissioning program created by Performance Space 122 to encourage artists to collaborate with experts outside the traditional performing disciplines. Room has gotten off to a good start.

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