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Jack Anderson

Vanishing Point

"Vanishing Point"
Tom Pearson and Zach Morris
Danspace Project, St. Mark's Church, 131 East Tenth Street, East Village
June 26-28, 2008 (closed)
Information: (212) 674-8194
Reviewed June 28, 2008

A family, a farm, a funeral. These are major concerns in "Vanishing Point," which Tom Pearson and Zach Morris collaboratively created with their dancers: Donna Ahmadi, Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, Tara O'Con, and Jennine Willett. Since its setting is the South, you can add to that thematic mixture bluegrass and booze. Characters repeatedly imbibe in this blending of movements, words, and music, which may be one reason why its events are jumbled. As for the bluegrass, it's terrific: original songs by Kris Bauman performed by his band, the Dang-It Bobbys (Bauman, banjo and guitar; Andy Cotton, bass, and Bryn Roberts, keyboard).

These guys don't just accompany the action; they occasionally participate in it, so that everyone in the performing space forms a community, sometimes an agitated one. The emotional tone becomes apparent at the outset when a rigid stony-faced Willett holding a vase of flowers suddenly twists into a solo suggesting her character is distraught. Later, she resembles a family matriarch.

What's bugging these folk? Who really can say? Time schemes and motivations sometimes seem deliberately vague. But there's a gathering at which people pose as if for a family portrait until decorum is shattered when O'Con gets slapped by everyone. Morris delivers what may be a eulogy during which he muses on what we leave behind and asks, "When do you stop growing and start dying?" He also has a duet with Ahmadi during which they pass a glass back and forth during close embraces.

A large box at the church's altar starts to move. It's a coffin and from beneath it staggers Pearson, guzzling from a bottle before dancing with Willett. A quiet moment is interrupted by a gunshot which causes everyone to run frantically to plaster themselves against the altar wall and then race back out.

Ahmadi delivers a monologue comparing life to a runaway train. In another speech, Morris describes a father's death and the problems of taking over a family farm. During a funeral procession, the coffin is set just beyond the church door. It proves to be transparent, and contains not a corpse, but a scale model of a farm. The dancers are left looking confused, uncertain what may come next.

Well, that's life, Pearson, Morris, Bauman, and the other collaborators might say. Ahmadi more or less does say that at one point when she admits, "We can't tell you what any of this means."

Such a statement might explain why some complex productions become chaotic bores. But "Vanishing Point," though often inexplicable, consistently held interest for almost an hour. Few spectators may have known why, or even when, any of its incidents were supposedly happening. Yet the characters (and, of course, the artists who created them) presumably did, and they communicated their involvement to the audience. In life, memories can often be fragmented, especially with the aid of booze. At the same time, those fragments can be sharp. On stage in "Vanishing Point," some good dancers and Dang-It Bobbys made them especially so.


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