Company: Reviews: 2009: Merilyn Jackson

Two World Premieres at Performance Garage

by Merilyn Jackson for The Inquirer
April 17th, 2009

Jeanne Ruddy's Performance Garage was the site of two momentous world premieres Wednesday evening - Ruddy's Lark, a clean dive into nonnarrative dance, and guest choreographer Martha Clarke's Sandman, a fearlessly cheerless contemplation of subhuman creatures.

Lark's five dancers stood in Jeffrey Wirsing's sleek, pewter-colored costumes like figurines, breathing life into themselves, then became carefree young people dancing with courteous, baroque-inspired mannerisms but in modern movement idioms. Ruddy allowed herself one or two of the contraction/releases emblematic of her years with the Martha Graham Company, but overall the choreography was fresh, snappy, and filled with light humor.

Composer Ellen Fishman-Johnson, commissioned by Ruddy, subverted Haydn's String Quartet No. 5 in D major into a sprightly, complex 21st-century score whose swirling arpeggios harmonized well with the choreography. In the hoedown-inflected third movement, Ian Dodge, looking tipsy on May wine, added a merry-andrew expressiveness to its comedic trio.

In Clarke's disquieting Sandman, these genial, quicksilver dancers were transformed into zombies in masks, hospital gowns, and soiled underwear (again Wirsing's design). Rick Callender, hooded in a brown paper bag, chalked the stage with street drawings like those in photographs by Helen Levitt, one of Clarke's three photographer muses for this work; Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Diane Arbus are the others.

Arthur Solari strung together his sound design - steam hissing, watery splashes, bells tolling - with snippets of John Lurie (Lounge Lizards) music and a two-or-three-beat pulse that sometimes added up to five but always added up to a doomsday atmosphere. The movement was crouched, creeping, still-framed, the look Goyaesque, Inquisitional.

Callender and Dodge ravaged, drowned, or strangled Thayne Alexandre Dibble, Janet Pilla, and Christine Taylor by turns. Callender reappeared as a water bug and devoured the raggedy beauty Meredith Riley Stewart. Dodge, in a thong and a butterfly mask, looked reptilian, writhing in a rainbow of light by Peter Jakubowski (who lit both works).

Dark humor appeared sporadically. Taylor, wearing rubber bird claws on hands and feet, made herself comfortable on a "nest" of shredded paper. When she relaxed into the classic pose of the Dying Swan, it was an oxymoronic image for the ages. Armed with slim reeds, Callender and Dodge engaged in a swordfight, the thwacks on their paper-bagged heads sounding deadly.

Ruddy called the program Juxtapose - and she took a risk pitting her dancerly Lark against Clarke's highly theatricalized Sandman. But it paid off as the audience bridged the gulf enthusiastically.