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Jack Anderson

Armory Show

"Armory Show"
Moving Theater Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue
February 20 and 21, 2010 (closed)
Information: www.movingtheater.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, February 24, 2010

"ARMORY SHOW" -- (L-R) Ryan Kelly, Anthony Whitehurst, Jose Tena, Davon Rainey. Photo by Michael Hart.

Unless absolute numbskulls assemble it, it's probably impossible for any site-specific dance production to be totally boring. Even if the specific events that happen in it prove unremarkable, the site itself will usually whet interest. Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly, of Moving Theater chose a grand site for their "Armory Show": the Park Avenue Armory at 67th Street and Park Avenue, a castle-like building of 1881 now considered one of the great examples of New York's "Gilded Age" architecture.

Before the show started, audience members were invited to wander through the first-floor rooms where they could marvel at coffered ceilings, chandeliers hanging like heavy weights, walls adorned with antlered deer heads, stained-glass windows, fancy fireplaces, portraits of uniformed military eminences, and display cases shining with silverware and table ornaments. Everywhere one looked there was a sense of privilege; epitomizing aspects of the era from which the armory came, the place exuded pride and confidence.

Jose Tena & Davon Rainey. Photo by Michael Hart.

But times change and military splendor may no longer be as widely admired today as it was in the 1880's. Some of the social and cultural ambiguities of the setting became apparent when the audience was seated in the Board of Officers Room. Its mahogany woodwork was impressive, yet there were also signs of water damage on the walls. And spectators were welcomed by a woman who identified herself as a resident of a women's shelter now located in the building. Everything here was not totally opulent.

Marlene Saldana. Photo by Michael Hart.

From the Board of Officers Room, spectators could peer down a long corridor of rooms opening onto other rooms, seemingly into infinity. (Parenthetically, it should be noted that one room Gerard and Kelly did not use at all was the building's most famous one: the cavernous Drill Hall, site of many art events, and soon to be transformed into a space for Britain's touring Royal Shakespeare Company. Gerard and Kelly deserve credit for avoiding the obvious in their site selections.)

Musicians from the International Composers Ensemble gathered to play scores, sometimes chiming, sometimes low and percussive, by Nathan Davis, Mario Diaz de León, and Du Yun. Videos by Yaniv Schulman showed people wandering through rooms; six live dancers also inspected the premises. Two men circled nervously and held each other as they passed down the corridor, growing ever less visible. Never fully comprehensible voices commented on such matters as Hiroshima, 9/11, a desire to die, Pina Bausch, and the genome. Battles broke out among the dancers, occasionally attaining a feverish, almost sexual, ecstasy.

Jonathan Drillet and Jose Tena. Photo by Michael Hart.

The audience was then invited into the elaborately decorated Veterans Room, to behold parades across the floor, gyrations by some blowzy-looking women on a little balcony and videos of protest demonstrations. The armory, which at first seemed a haven of order, now housed chaos.

Other than being an attack on war and violence, "Armory Show" was never fully coherent. As in all too many site-specific dances, its choreographic events were swallowed up by the environment in which they occurred. Nevertheless, thanks to that environment, it wasn't boring: you could always appraise the interior decoration and admire the architecture.

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