Last night I went to see the second in the three-work series “Sitelines” — site-specific dance performances organized by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, taking place at various downtown locales. This one, entitled “States & Resemblance,” was choreographed by Dean Moss and Japanese video artist Ryutaro Mishima, and took place on a nice little elevated park overlooking the East River that I hadn’t even known existed.
Above is a picture of the scene. Painted on the ground was an ambiguous grey splotch dotted with several large black spots that spilled out of the grey and all around the park’s winding paths. One such path led to a larger grassy lawn, where they are apparently showing a series of several old films shot in NY as part of the River to River festival (all these fun outdoor festivals in NYC during the summer!)
Well, I’m not entirely sure what to make of the piece, so I’ll describe it. The performance began in the lawn area, with Moss and Mishima running and jumping around playfully. I’d seen an earlier draft of this at the Nothing Festival at Dance Theater Workshop a few months ago, and there the men were naked. Here, they were nearly so, wearing only resplendent white dance belts, which, because of their sheen, were actually rather beautiful.
After cavorting around the lawn with each other for a few minutes, an Asian woman (whom the program notes is Indonesian mask artist Restu Imansari Kusumaningrum) dressed in shiny skirt and top, emerged from the park and walked to the edge of the lawn ringing a bell. That signaled for the men to walk into the park, where, in the center atop the dots, they slowly and soberly put on pants and button-down shirts — casual work clothes. The woman wandered around the park for a while, ringing the bell every so often while the men, after dressing, stood on the main grey area, first doing a series of poses during which their hands then arms would slowly begin to quiver, then a series of balances on one foot.
Suddenly, Mishima turned on Moss, attacking him. The men fought, jumping at and bouncing off each other, struggling with each other, with Moss trying to make peace with Mishima but Mishima resisting. While this happened, Kusumaningrum found a place in the grass to sit peacefully, where she donned a face mask.
Mishima eventually broke free from Moss and walked to the outer edges of the sidewalk, to where the crowd was sitting, and began laughing and singing at us aggressively and haughtily, momentarily a bit frightening. Kusumaningrum, disrupting the crowd by moving to various areas of the park, tried on a series of masks. Moss, now walking very slowly and hunched over like an old man, approached Mishima, who picked up a television set whose screen bore a close-up of an elderly person grinning widely, many teeth missing, and confrontationally thrust the screen out at the crowd.
Eventually, the two men went into a back area of the park and sat down in the high grass, hiding themselves from the audience. Kusumaningrum walked out to the center area, lay down and thrashed about on the ground, donning another mask. Eventually she stopped and pointed to the area where Moss and Mishima were sitting. The men slowly rose. Over each of their faces was taped a large black dot, the same as were spotting the ground.
So what does all this mean? Well, the little blurb on the Sitelines flier tells us that it is intended to be “a meditation on the pain, beauty, and inevitability of how things, people, and experience pass away … reflect(ing) on the process of aging as one of the most binding aspects of our existence.”
I could definitely see the aging in the way the men acted boyishly, playfully on the lawn, near naked, in an innocent beatific state, then as if called by their mother, or by time, to grow up and don career clothes. I could see Mishima’s attempt to defy the passage of time by lashing out against Moss, who nevertheless eventually grew into an old man, taking Mishima with him. At the end, the large black dots covering their faces suggests ashes to ashes, dust to dust, our bodies do eventually become part of the earth, part of the environment, and thus timeless. I didn’t completely get the significance of the masks, unless they were meant to convey in another way how we try to evade and hide, pretend, develop facades?
I’m sure there are plenty of other interpretations as well. In general, I find this kind of postmodern / experimental dance intriguing and fun so long as there’s enough there for you really to cull something from it all and come up with various analyses. I definitely felt like there was enough here to do that. Here’s a write-up on the piece by Gia Kourlas in TONY. It’s showing a few more times this week and next; go here for the schedule.