Friday, November 27, 2009

Invertigo Dance Theatre’s Reeling: Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places

If you’ve ever had a bad night at a bar, you’d appreciate Invertigo Dance Theatre’s Reeling, a show that busts open a night of meeting, drinking, dancing and karaoke to reveal desperate desires for connection. While eight lonely hearts mingle at the onstage bar (complete with musicians who show up late and a counter that too many people turn into a stage) their longings are thwarted by fears, jealousies, violence and insecurities sometimes amplified, sometimes masked, by the ever-growing influence of alcohol. Invertigo director Laura Karlin tosses in just enough accurately ridiculous elements of the party scene – a drunk guy who threatens to jump from the scaffolding, another who does frantic pushups to win back his flirt of a girlfriend, a cell phone conversation that obnoxiously interrupts the tender opening duet set to Najeeb Sabour’s gorgeous cello – to make us laugh at these not-so-exaggerated portraits of ourselves all the while.

From that rudely intrusive initial phone call, planted in the audience and so convincing that the people in front of me start to mutter obscenities, develops a disembodied dance of cell phone users. With awesome skill, and without breaking contact with their tiny silver appendages or missing a beat in their animated conversations, eight men and women climb over and around each other, making sudden, clinging shifts in orientation before moving on to the next human obstacle. They receive driving directions, plan to meet later in the evening, give those awful play-by-play accounts of their whereabouts, and even text with their invisible partners, whilst engaging acrobatically but mechanically with the people they encounter along the way. Everyone finally arrives at the bar, and the gymnastic agility they display in technologically mediated conversation disappears when faced with direct human contact.

Although cell phones mostly drop out of sight for the remainder of the night, mental, emotional and physical absence continues to threaten relationships. Bahareh Ebrahimzadeh is too busy hitting on, and developing strategies for hitting on, a cute girl in the front row to perform her duet with Nick Factoran, so he continues on his own and comically tries to fill the physical holes with explanation: “This is me lifting you.” Scooping with his arms and looking up at the space where Ebrahimzadeh is supposed to be, he scoots sideways ridiculously alone. SaraAnne Fahey (the flirt) cozies up to Jermaine Johnson while obviously eyeing Factoran across the room. When couples pair off for slow dances every now and then, a few bar hoppers peer over their partners’ shoulders and scan the crowd for their true objects of desire – almost always elsewhere. And after daydream sequences of bold, heartfelt action, like Courtney Ozovek’s karaoke fantasy with Ebrahimzadeh, we feel even more acutely the absence of such action from reality; Ozovek retreats in embarrassment from the countertop stage without singing a note.

Invertigo company members flesh out endearing, compelling and unique characters over the course of the evening, but their individual stories grow perhaps most poignant when they fall into traps and tendencies we all recognize and dread. A recorded voice narrates the predictable form of a first conversation while Factoran and his crush, bartender Chelsea Asman, physicalize their exchange. Standing rather awkwardly side-by-side, he initiates the interaction with a gesture toward her, and the unseen commentator labels it “statement.” She responds with a guarded nod toward him in “agreement.” Encouraged, he waves his arms grandly in an “overly confident statement” and she takes a step back in “disagreement.” They progress through “awkward silence,” “panicked bullshit explanation,” and “relieved laughter” until, with regal flying tour jeté, he makes a “grossly exaggerated statement” and she follows up with an “accidental double entendre” that lands her between his legs. Finally, the interchange devolves into a barrage of “insults” as the two hurl themselves into diving rolls finally halted by her definitive “insult complete with literary allusion and long-term scatological implications.”

Although we get to know barkeep Asman through spoken and physical interactions like the ones above, Karlin further develops the Reeling characters through full-bodied, abstract movement. Asman, because she’s the boss, has to display all of the restraint and decisiveness that the others lack, and when dancers together break into tight upright turns, quick drops to their haunches and extreme arches, her power, attack and control separate her, as always, from the group. Likewise, Jessica LeCheminant retains her shy, gentle approach and loose giddiness when she joins the others, protesting, giggling, “I don’t really dance,” and catching on to the steps with tentative, awkward delight. Consistency of character blends the performers’ pedestrian activity into their dancing, and when Ebrahimzadeh flirts with Elena of the front row and Asman serves drinks to lucky of-age viewers sitting house left, boundaries between dance and life grow even fainter. With this confusion, Karlin leads us to associate dance interactions – who’s touching whom and how – with all the meaning and significance we attach to real-world physical situations.

Such blurring happens more and more as the booze continues to flow, order breaks down, desperation and frustration build, and reality fades into dream sequences – like the one LeCheminant initiates by humming a few bars of “Don’t You Want Me Baby” as she sidles up next to Jeremy Hahn. A dance of attraction and curiosity quickly morphs into violence as Hahn pushes LeCheminant down again and again, and her breathing grows loud and labored. She retaliates when she can, and he reveals familiar abusive tendencies by switching suddenly to gentle caresses and back to rough shoves until we finally return to reality. But this time the violence bleeds into the group, and it’s impossible to forget where we’ve been or to return to the place we were before. A mixed-up, slowed down, weightless new world emerges – where musician Toby Karlin coaxes ethereal music out of wineglasses, and arms, legs and torsos swim in a high shaft of light, reaching for something that will satisfy.

Reeling’s two week run at the Odyssey Theatre has ended, but check out Invertigo’s website for future events.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Everybody Dance at the Stone House

This past Wednesday I witnessed 45 remarkable minutes of dance…and 60 of the performers didn’t know the steps when they showed up at noon for the 12:35 show. Louise Reichlin’s LA Choreographers & Dancers have been partnering with groups of local students to create Dance at the Stone House at the Sun Valley Youth Arts Center for three years now, and each performance is truly a miraculous achievement in communication, mathematics, spatial organization, time management, community building, education, and most certainly, dance.

Inspired by the architecture, artwork and history of the SV Youth Arts Center or “Stone House,” built in 1925 and classified as a City Cultural Historical Monument, the dance comes with some assembly required. It all happens in a 45 minute whirlwind of meticulously choreographed activity that culminates in a performance involving five company dancers (Danielle Catone, Samantha Hoe, Steven Nielsen, Sung-Yun Park and Katya Sussman) and, at the noon show on Wednesday, 60 fourth and sixth graders from Rockdale Elementary School.

Students emerge from the buses already grouped in eights or tens – the lumberjacks, the logs, the stonecutters, the swimmers, the animals, the musicians – and team spirit blossoms almost immediately. Musicians arrive at the seating area jamming on their air guitars, drums and keyboards and, in true cool musician style, kick it in the back row. A swimmer sits by me with the rest of his aquatic friends and, after inspecting some ocean-themed tiles made by young artists here at the center, yells out his decision: “a killer whale!”

During the next half hour of controlled chaos, the groups disperse to gather inspiration for their movement inside the Stone House and to work with company dancers onstage in carefully staggered five minute intervals. I get to be an honorary log, and while exploring the house we discover lots of ways that we logs secretly support and form the framework for the stone masonry. Stepping back outside, I catch sight of lumberjacks stomping after Nielsen across the outdoor performing space, taking a few menacing whacks mid-air, and shouting “TIM-BER” in surprising unison. Unfazed by this threatening display, the other logs boldly follow Sussman into the stage area to learn their movement. Dropping down into low lunges, they become floorboards, and when they reach heads and arms into gently sloping curves they recall the wooden window arches.

I love how much Reichlin and her dancers expect of their young collaborators. In five to ten minutes of rehearsal, each group learns where to “pre-set” before the dance begins, a cue for entering, and several eight-counts of movement that travels in a specified spatial pathway. (Don’t ask me how the grown-up dancers keep track of these discrete parts while teaching them out of order and context. It’s still a mystery.) But because there’s so much to be done in so little time, the kids have to call upon their best problem solving skills – negotiating space with their neighbors and finding ways to do the movement, like a tricky kick and roll up off the floor, that work for them.

During the practice “mark through” we first glimpse the dance as a whole and begin to believe that all these parts could, possibly, fit together. When students see how their movement weaves through the company dancers’ cartwheels, jumps, complex floor patterns and fancy footwork, their focus intensifies in preparation for the final performance. And they do it! The music starts, Reichlin’s dancers tread several quick passes through the space, and lumberjacks move into position for their big entrance. Swaggering onstage, their nervous grins widen as their chops, felling only imaginary trees during rehearsal, now cause Park to tip backward and topple to the floor. Later on, when logs bow their heads to form arches, stonecutters haul their heavy burdens down an assembly line and then slather, slather, slather the rocks to the wooden frame with cement. Swimmers swish and animals crawl curving paths through the space, and musicians join in for a Mardi Gras-style parade – inspired by a painting inside the Stone House – before everyone takes a bow.

I’m sure all involved would offer their thanks to Los Angeles Cultural Affairs and the LA County Arts Commission for making this amazing program financially feasible in such tough economic times. And of course, thank you to Louise Reichlin and LA Choreographers & Dancers for modeling the tremendous collaboration that’s possible when professional and budding artists come together for even three quarters of an hour.

Photo of previous Dance at the Stone House performance by Steve Fobalvarro

Used with permission of:

© Louise Reichlin, Los Angeles Choreographers & Dancers

© Department of Cultural Affairs, Sun Valley Youth Arts Center

All rights reserved.

Friday, November 20, 2009

In the Flesh: Halprin’s Parades and Changes Replayed at REDCAT

I wasn’t around for the original Parades and Changes, the one that met with police raids for public nudity at its New York premiere by Anna Halprin and company in 1967. And until this past Saturday evening, my impressions of the seminal work were gleaned only from lectures and books and articles, and from one grainy film of Procession (1964) at UCLA – later incorporated as one of the seven or eight sections of Parades. From these secondary sources, I know that the work broke with dance and theater tradition by presenting dancers as themselves, without the conventions and artifice that customarily distance performers comfortably from their actions, bodies and audience. By eliminating the separating spaces, Parades and Changes questioned and muddied the boundaries between dance and everyday movement and between performers and audience members, making it possible for a dancer to walk like a regular person instead of royalty and for regular people to dance.

I know that Parades and Changes lives in the choices available to us in contemporary dance, but I wasn’t there for the shock and outrage at Hunter College in ’67, and even though I’ve heard much about the world Parades emerged from and collided with (it was, after all, my parents’ world), it still seems foreign. Because we boomers’ babies communicate with reserve and skepticism and irony (and hold all we encounter to these universal standards of sophistication), glimpses of the earnestness and tacit trust that characterized many performances of the 60s often leave us flustered and confused, amused or contemptuous. When political performance ensemble The Living Theatre revived the celebrated Vietnam-era Mysteries and Smaller Places in 1994, it flopped because of this very disconnect in communication styles (1), and I admit that I feared Anna Halprin and Anne Collod’s Parades and Changes, Replays might do the same Saturday night at REDCAT. It did not.

They stare out at us with eerie neutrality as they slowly, deliberately unbutton shirts, bend to unzip boots, pull down briefs, and we are the ones exposed – sitting under much-too-bright house lights with our discomfort and embarrassment. Janice Ross writes that, in 1967, dancers performed this task “with the same matter-of-factness they would exhibit if undressing at home” (2), and the honesty and reality of the activity shocked audiences. Balanced on her bare right leg, the woman with the short dark hair stoops forward and slides off her left boot. Without breaking her forward gaze, she draws the left foot back and down into a lunge and deposits the boot silently at her side. Never a scratch, wobble or stubborn button, and always the direct, penetrating, blank stare. Mixed signals shift the action from everyday task to confrontational or seductive performance and back again, and I am confused, disturbed, stripped of my viewing savvy.

Later on when the house lights, thankfully, have dimmed, paired dancers undress in perfect, mirrored unison, and stage technician (Frédéric Fleischer?) stalks between the strangely synchronized duets to unroll the famous brown paper. The improvisational score – a loose choreographic structure Halprin developed in the years leading up to Parades – builds back in just enough theatrical convention (audience in the dark, dancers’ focus on each other, movement ordered) to contrast with Fleischer’s entrance, and I remember that such visibility of production elements and technical collaborators is now a valid directorial choice in part because of this piece. Actions conjure their enormous historical implications throughout the evening and remind us how much the 1967 work has shaped the way we’re watching the 2009 replay. It’s a lovely, mixed-up, celebratory soup we swim through, and our appreciation is amplified by the sad knowledge that Lawrence Halprin – Anna Halprin’s husband and collaborator of nearly 70 years – died just a few weeks ago.

I recognize the brown paper roll, but what follows this set-up is not at all what I expected. Before tonight, when I pictured dancers completing the task of tearing paper into strips, the flat affect and functionality of Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A came to mind. I never imagined the beautifully sculptural, sensually delightful, playful and sometimes ironic dance that folds and unfolds between people and paper. This part of Parades seems most obviously a product of the 60s: naked people in sustained slow motion, their bodies glowing honey brown like the paper, enjoying the physical sensations of ripping and crumpling and wrapping as they circle around, rise and fall together. But particularly theatrical lighting and unexpected musical accompaniment by Petula Clark’s “Downtown” for the first minutes of shredding suggest that the dancers’ nudity combined with their concentration on this simple job might be funny.

Although the paper-tearing section runs perhaps the greatest risk of losing me and my callous contemporaries, because it begins with this ironic self-awareness we gladly come along for and luxuriate in the ride that follows. When the paper lies in shreds, the task shifts; dancers gather to the center and toss the strips in flames that flicker and fall in a constant, dazzling fire of activity. This glorious abundance, and the boundless sense of time and pleasure that we relish while the paper’s on stage feel distinctly foreign, and I’m pretty sure this is a taste of the 60s.

The performers set up lines of umbrellas, furry clogs, buckets, hip boots, bonnets and other flea market fare for the Procession section, and what I never noticed in the black and white 1964 video I delight to discover and trace here. As dancers in separate tracks interpret the direction “keep moving forward, and take the environment with you” by adding items to their person with every slow lap through the space, we notice additional tasks they set for themselves and each other along the way. One woman starts with a silvery beekeeper’s head covering, next picks up a metallic Mylar balloon, and then – noting the shiny theme just in time – her neighbor hands off a springy, swinging tube of silver ductwork as they pass. Watching each new rule develop, we enjoy the real-time problem solving, and once again we’re grateful for Anna Halprin.

Finally, the focus narrows to just two dancers. Others scurry to dress them in layer after layer, and the new challenge emerges. Draping cloths over heads, hanging buckets on arms, fastening umbrellas into belts, the costumers gradually clear the stage by attaching all items to these two now-hardly-human accumulations. When the last unruly objects have been miraculously added, the procession changes direction. Somehow, the castaway conglomerations make their teetering way on pumps and furry clogs up the theater stairs, through the lobby and out onto the corner of West 2nd and South Hope, where live camera tracks their interaction with the Los Angeles of 2009. When the lights come up and the artists come out we stand for Parades and Changes, for all it has accomplished and for the ways it continues to reach into our world.

1 Callaghan, David. “Still Signaling Through the Flames: The Living Theatre’s Use of Audience Participation in the 1990’s.” Audience Participation: Essays on Inclusion in Performance. Ed. Susan Kattwinkel. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. 23-36.
2 Ross, Janice. “Anna Halprin and the 1960s: Acting in the Gap between the Personal, the Public, and the Political.” Reinventing Dance in the 1960s: Everything Was Possible. Ed. Sally Banes. Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin P, 2003. 24-50.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fondly Do We Hope… Fervently Do We Pray at the Irvine Barclay Theatre

Behind a sheer white curtain, vignettes develop in the muted tones of old photographs as narrator Jamyl Dobson tells the story much as we’ve heard it before. Abraham Lincoln is born, works hard, falls in love with Mary Todd, has four boys…. We glimpse a family in dynamic action as Abe and Mary and their sons, connected by clasped hands and hooked arms, rock and slide and swing each other up overhead and safely back to the earth. He confronts slavery, the issue of the day…. Paul Matteson, as Lincoln, flops and flails on the floor, turning in the circles of an injured insect. He becomes President…. The white-suited Matteson bounds, then stalks stiffly and gestures emphatically, his legs unfurling and pressing like long, flapping wings. He brings a country to war to save itself… is assassinated.

Dancers whip the curtain away and we see him in the flesh, face flushed, at once humanized and memorialized against a backdrop of columns that suggest the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and democracy itself. Bill T. Jones’ Fondly Do We Hope… Fervently Do We Pray moves through the legends, impressions and famous words of Abraham Lincoln to discover a man and his enduring relevance and challenge to America.

Fondly Do We Hope pursues this admirably ambitious vision with a deluge of projected and spoken text, riveting performance of an original musical score, bits of video, and glorious dancing. It’s a rare thrill to see dance on a grand scale and in the company of such brilliant collaborators as vocalists George Lewis Jr. and Clarissa Sinceno, but the work often seems either overwhelmed by its vast scope or frustratingly busy and limited by layers of overbearing text. Where Jones trusts bodies to speak with potent subtlety and allows us to dwell thoughtfully in complexity, however, he creates an intimate and nuanced portrait that moves and calls us to stewardship of the liberty our country claims.

A shouted and danced debate blends words Lincoln and Stephen Douglas exchanged about slavery in 1858 with cries of the current American culture wars over gay marriage, military involvement in the Middle East, immigration policy and interrogation by torture. But the political references seem like sound bites and the movement mere accompaniment until the chaos climaxes in focused unison and the entire company unites in gestural recitation of our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident….” In the cadence of the spoken words, elbows stab out from shoulders, backs arch, heads look up, and powerful singleness of purpose replaces sensory overload. “All men are created equal….” Knees bend, chests cave, bodies drop to the floor. In the raw physicality we see pain caused by failure to realize these words and the consuming effort required to act on them.

Moving, spoken portraits of contemporary Americans – apparently both real and fictitious – poke at these political sore spots again and again. “She was born in 1939.” In dull gray dress and thick black stockings, Jennifer Nugent labors with the deliberate, efficient and direct strokes of one who knows hard work – her body all sinew, starkly defined in white light and shadow. Dobson tells us about her tough childhood, and the dancing becomes supplement rather than primary source. “She knows slavery was wrong, but she wishes things could be clear like they used to be.” This woman, like the earnest soldier we meet earlier who “doesn’t care much about history,” remains flat and distant because the calculation is evident; I know which statements are intended to draw out my opposing views and which are supposed to pull me toward her in empathy, so unfortunately I bristle at the assumptions and push away from the artifice.

In contrast, we get to know Mary Todd Lincoln – danced with intriguing dimension by Asli Bulbul – throughout the evening, and mostly through her body. Flashes of red underskirt amidst quick flicks and sudden shifts suggest Mary’s mercurial nature, but when followed by tender turns in a waltz with Matteson and a stunned walk in the black of mourning, we see a fully formed person and an utterly devoted wife.

The work’s sweeping scale shrinks to a single point of focus as Matteson stands on stage alone. In the stillness we see that he bears something of Lincoln’s humble dignity in his chest and shoulders. With gentle folds of the torso he considers and carries out a careful leap into space, spongy legs and quiet cat feet absorbing the decided step. Through the silence we hear only occasional squeaks of directional shifts and lovely pats of feet against floor. When his arms rise confidently to a V, then lag, collapse, and rest a while, I’m reminded of things I’ve read about Lincoln’s retreats into prayer when overcome by the weight of a country and its war. These few moments of bare physical presence make me feel for and care about this weary, solitary man as I never have.

Room to consider, to drink in image or sound or movement, is hard to find in Fondly Do We Hope… Fervently Do We Pray, but when the many elements fall into step with one another or fall away entirely, we wander to revelatory places. Unfortunately, from such exhilarating heights the piece drags out to a heavy-handed conclusion: “Lincoln is a story we tell ourselves. We still dedicate, we still consecrate ourselves to his unfinished work….” The attempt to summarize the past 90 minutes diminishes where we’ve been together, and I’m ready for some time with my own thoughts.

Other responses to this work:

New York Times

LA Times

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Play House Lets Dance Loose in Long Beach

Up some gray wooden stairs, across a floor caked in splotchy layers of blue, white and pink paint, and around a crumbling corner in the abandoned Expo Furniture Warehouse in Long Beach Saturday night, I came upon some of the best dance I’ve seen since arriving in L.A. Aptly named Play House, the multimedia performance integrates installations and live music with surprising bits of movement and full dance works in a loosely but cleverly structured evening that encourages each viewer to watch in her own way. Information about the show was not easy to come by (no programs, only names and titles posted on brown paper in a dark corner), but my sleuthing confirms that many of these gifted artists emerged from Cal State Long Beach. Joining forces with independent art makers from around the world, they form Alive Theatre, Invertigo Dance Theatre and Domino Affect Dance Company, producing their own concerts and collaborating on projects like this one. Conceived by Invertigo Dance Theatre member and CSLB dance alum Bahareh Ebrahimzadeh, Play House demonstrates an understanding of audience engagement that gives me renewed hope in a future for dance.

The upstairs gallery opens a little after eight, and some of us serious (read: uptight) dance fans who’d been parked on couches leftover from the building’s warehouse days head right up. More low-key guests continue to arrive, sip red wine and munch on pizza from the bar until deciding to encounter some art, thanks to the show’s soft start time – a brilliant idea in a city where traffic makes an eight o’clock arrival uncertain at best. Upstairs, works that mostly sit still approach themes of home, family, and the everyday: 1940’s-era portraits overlaid with block letters telling the subjects’ stories, a sandbox of red paper poppies bobbing in the breeze from a nearby fan, a family outing restaged with beach chairs and projected photographs. Excited chatter bubbles up from a game of bowling, but curiosity leads me on, and the flow of foot traffic pulls my focus out into the next dimly lit room.

Here, people play house. In the bedroom, Tara McArthur stuffs laundry in drawers, dropping socks and underwear absentmindedly. She tries on a pair of tight jeans, checking herself out in a mirror, and I feel more like a voyeur than a viewer. Peering around walls, furniture, and other audience members, I glimpse a scuffle over a liquor bottle at the dining room table and a woman in a flouncy apron busy at the sink and stove. Andrew Merrell enters the bedroom, and while the couple prepares for bed, self-consciousness prods me to crane, tilt and rise on tiptoe to catch parts of the drinking game turned mad musical chairs in the next room. Urgent and repeated kicking from the bed pulls me back to watch the pair on a sleepwalking stroll, treading lightly over backs, along wall and ceiling. They slump and drag into dreamy, slow motion death scenes – crossing back and forth over the line between hilarious and disturbing – but then a blaring alarm clock sends everyone into a panicked scramble over chairs, under tables, and out of the house. Several of us linger to watch the few remaining homebodies continue, apparently prolonging their performance with our presence.

Downstairs in semi-darkness, we take seats on risers and, based on the brown paper program I found after the show, I think we await the start of Bahareh Ebrahimzadeh’s “The Green Movement.” Ebrahimzadeh’s piece revs to include the most innovative partnering and thrillingly off-balance, risky dancing I’ve seen in a while. A disoriented, ever-falling trio lurches side to side, arches, and turns, cutting horizontally through the space. A man in blue – Sam Propersi? – jabs a knee out toward a distant point, and hips, rib cage, shoulders, head trail along in perfectly passive sequence, unstilted by tension or competing impulse. Erin Butkevitch(?) joins him and they dance a duet full of violence and tenderness; their rolling, shifting, clutching, shoving connection conveys the complexity of human relationships with a veracity rarely achieved in movement.

We aren’t sure if there’ll be more dancing after the applause dies, but the ambiguity gives us permission to get up and return to the bar for more snacks, and many do. Viviana Alcazar’s mellifluous “Unbroken Ties” eventually follows, a gentle duet danced by women with wonderfully unaffected stage presence and beautifully spontaneous smiles when they bound through space together. They establish such a clear and close bond that moments of unison bring delicious satisfaction. A preview of Invertigo Dance Theatre’s November show, Reeling, gets me hooked on their funky, free-spirited style. Goofing off – jerking, tripping, and flopping each other around – to Wanda Jackson’s 1961 rockabilly “Funnel of Love,” they switch from silly to strange in a second, legs contorting around shoulders in backbends and laughs bursting nonsensically from intensely focused looks. Dancers slingshot each other across the stage, run and dive at the audience, but then darkness interrupts . . . until November.

What a fabulous show – over by 9:30, and the cast ready to start it all again at 10:00. Thanks to all for modeling a concert for today’s viewers. This is how we build an audience.

Friday, September 25, 2009

When It’s Not Forever

A dim pool of light reveals only form: two bodies leaning, tilted in parallel; then rolled apart, remote, withdrawn; the two connected by hands; suddenly one all tangled up; now two distinct bodies again. The opening of Meg Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher’s Maybe Forever distills their journey – the remembering, processing, reliving of a love and its ending – to its essence. They come together and tear apart.

The room brightens and we see it is an eerily safe sort of place, where sound and action are muted by grey carpet and black curtains, and where a photograph of dandelions losing their fluff in the wind and melodious love songs crooned by a man in a shiny blue coat make us think pleasant thoughts. As with memory, here time passes achronologically – moments of intimacy mixed with and suddenly transformed into isolation. He beckons, laughing, backing up, and she launches into a running, jumping, full-body embrace. The impact knocks them to the floor where they scurry desperately and self-protectively apart, crumpled, clutching at their own arms and legs. He smiles shyly and reaches around her waist, then breaks off, stumbling, forearms stiffly outstretched and soft hands trembling.

From behind a microphone, Stuart reflects on the love lost: “You know when I said it’s useless to be romantic these days? I take it back.” Action interrupts as shoulders rise and arms shoot up, find a particular twist, bend around her head, and stay, stuck. The sequence repeats, builds, disappears and resurfaces through her broken monologue, while plastic-y creaks from her pleather jacket amplify the intense self-awareness of going over and over things said and done.

For a work (and a relationship) filled with pain, there’s a noticeable absence of blame, or even determined search for answers to the question “Why did it end?” It seems that’s not why we’re here, but that’s what I want to know. Not the immediate reason – Stuart offers a strong possibility when she quietly, almost meekly, takes back her pledge to always be faithful – but the reason for that unfaithfulness or whatever it was that led them to give up. Speaking from the past, her recorded voice asks, “What’s wrong with saying forever?” and we know at some point, like most of us, that’s what they hoped for.

Niko Hafkenscheid sings in a spare, simple waltz, “Your dreams, will come true, in a promised land, with me, but I won’t insist, at all.” First they play, staggering and circling their arms until a fall brings his head sweetly to her lap. Sitting up and holding her from behind, he makes her fingers dance and chase and duel. But moments later they insist. She grabs around his neck and thrusts his body, face-down, to the floor. He frantically folds her arms, wraps up her legs, and relocates her lifeless body. I have to think songs like Hafkenscheid’s are partly to blame for filling us with hopes and desires and visions of fake love – love that doesn’t exist and makes us dissatisfied with the love we find.

I read in one review that the work should have ended at 60 minutes. This is when I got tired, too. I had seen all the gestures before and I didn’t want to watch them anymore. But this is the pain, revisiting what’s happened again and again. And moments of revelation – when we understand that a repeated reaching is actually half of an embrace, or a trailing arm is a remnant of hands held – sustain us through the repetition. We examine the wreckage with them, seeing how their bodies have been changed, molded, and disabled by their union with and separation from each other.

Gehmacher enters at the end and speaks for the first time between dramatic organ chords. After all his physical incoherence, he forces a formal stolidity and recites the “moving on” rhetoric we’ve heard from friends and shrinks and talk show hosts in a letter to his lover: "I need to accept the situation . . . I cherish the times we had . . . You gave me a beginning . . . Now I’m ready. . . ." His speech is pretty convincing, but I don’t think he believes it. He takes a lurching step and lifts his hands, fingers dancing and chasing, until they cover his eyes.

Performances of Maybe Forever continue at REDCAT tonight and Saturday at 8:30 pm. For tickets visit General admission is $25, students $20, and CalArts $12.

Other responses to Maybe Forever:

The New York Times

The Columbus Dispatch

The Portland Mercury

Reading the Dance