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Jack Anderson

New Russian Choreography at the Storefront

Photo courtesy of CEC ArtsLink

New Russian Choreography: An Interdisciplinary Performance
Hosted by CEC Arts Link and Jacob's Pillow Dance
Storefront for Art and Architecture, 97 Kenmare Street, SoHo
Thursday August 20 at 6 p.m.
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, August 21, 2009

The Storefront for Art and Architecture is a curious exhibition space with paneled walls that can open and swing into the street, thereby blurring distinctions between inside and outside. Given its protean capacities, it became an intriguing site for an untitled collaboration, usually diverting, but sometimes troublesome, involving Russian choreographers Alexander Andriyashkin and Tatiana Luzai and stage directors Kseniya Petrenko and Aleksei Zherebtsov.

Because the stage directors were active participants in the proceedings, they could also be called dancers, and they were the first performers one saw in the event, which began with the audience seated on folding chairs outside the Storefront. Through the partially opened panels one could glimpse Petrenko and Zherebtsov moving inside, both in peasant costumes, Petrenko carrying a sickle and some straw, Zherebtsov wielding a scythe. After they emerged onto the street, the panels closed, and these peasants marched before us with grim and ghostly-white faces.

Although costumes and poses recalled ostentatiously heroic posters of farmers in the Soviet era, these two seemed far from happy peasants. Indeed, the ominous glances they gave the audience suggested they may have been grim reapers. Yet the anxious looks that occasionally crossed their faces also hinted they may have feared being harvested in a purge. Comparable layers of contradictory implications recurred throughout the work.

Zherebtsov stood for a moment in the middle of the street, no doubt startling some motorists, then rejoined Petrenko and, after he pounded on the walls, a panel swung open. Out popped Luzai, an elfin dancer who darted and fluttered back and forth.

When the event resumed inside the Storefront, troubles began. For one thing, it seemed unusually airless there on this stifling summer night. But more bothersome was the lack of visibility. Standing spectators had to shuffle from one performance site to another and it was hard to peer over other people's heads. Nevertheless, there were interesting things to see, many of them involving Andriyashkin.
Speaking into a microphone, he nervously assured us, "I wanna do only great performances. I wanna do only great performances," and began dancing, nervously hopping about and shaking his hips, but also asking spectators, "What do you miss in my dancing?" When people suggested "music" and "partners," those supposed deficiencies were found, although you had to wonder if the partners were plants, for they moved with considerable agility. Yet the Storefront is in an arty part of town, so they might really have been dance-loving spectators itching to dance with a visiting Russian.

Once again, double meanings abounded. Just as the peasants embodied both heroism and anxiety, so Andriyashkin's caperings suggested a performer's egotism, while his spoken doubts betrayed a performer's sense of uncertainty and fear of failure, an impression intensified when he urged his audience, "Now scream loud how good I am." And what did this reveal: egotism? or an inferiority complex?

In what may have been a sly commentary on those motionless or nearly motionless non-dance dances of a few decades ago, Andriyashkin just sat in a chair for a few minutes (usually to music, but once to the sound of gunshots), moving the chair from location to location, the last of them out in the street, where Luzai's sprite jumped onto his shoulders and clambered about his body. Once inside again, the performers eventually vanished through a trapdoor. Or so I was told. But I was too far back in the crowd to see it.

What I did see of the collaboration yielded no aesthetic surprises, for this type of prankish event has been staged at least since the 1960's. However, by making this one lively and agreeable, the Russians reminded us that not every performance needs to be a revolutionary revelation.

After the piece ended, a spokesperson for CEC ArtsLink told us that the performers had never ventured into the Storefront before that day, an announcement testifying to their theatrical inventiveness. Nevertheless, since who knows when I'll see them again, the semi-improvisatory nature of their presentation made me wish I could see them all in full-scale productions.

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