The White Oak Project
Zellerbach Hall, U.C., Berkeley
May 30,31-June 1, 2002
Music: Arcangelo Corelli
Choreography: Lucinda Childs
Premiered June 7, 2001 At Brooklyn Academy of Music, and danced by Lucinda Childs
Music: Lucia Dlugoszewski
Choreography: Erick Hawkins
Original Costume Design: Erick Hawkins
Costume Reconstruction: Dianna Berg
Original Lighting Design: Robert Engstrom
Lighting: Les Dickert
Staging: Katherine Duke
The Experts (2002)
Music: Mike Iveson, Jr.
Choeography: Sarah Michelson
Costumes: Sarah Michaelson and Tanya Uhlmann
Set Concept and Design:Sarah Michelson
Lighting: Frank Den Danto III
Set Construction: Frank Den Danto II with Christopher Buckley
Video Mike Taylor
Music: Benjamin Britten
Choreography: Lucinda Childs
Lighting: Les Dickers
Costumes: Deanna Berg
The White Oak Project with its company of eight dancers, including Mikhail Baryshnikov, gives me the feeling of the small ensembles which barnstormed around in the 19th century, intrepid and perhaps a bit iconclastic, but very expert.
This program of commissioned works and a revival of an earlier modern piece reflects Baryshnikov's passion for experiencing the range of modern dance innovations and demonstrates what a singular comprehension he brings with his curiosity. His informed
interest has provided a glimpse of a Hawkins work I never saw before, even though it was premiered in 1961 and doubtless was seen in San Francisco after its initial performance in Portland, Oregon.
While this was the second on the program, I want to discuss this work for the male trio, Miguel Anaya, Roger C. Jeffrey and Mikhail Baryshinikov and the sole woman, Rosalynde LeBlanc. To me the odd bursts of sound from Dlugoszewski's score must have been horrendous to work with, and at distinct contrast to the title,Early Floating. Floating is a description I associate with change and variety in cloud formations, sometimes stormy, but usually metamorphosing from one shape to another and sometimes looking suspiciously anthropomorphic. On reflection, some moments broached that state, particularly when LeBlanc and any one of the three men touched hands, or nudged one another sideways across the stage, toe gently placed on toe, inaugurating a lateral movement. Sometimes one of the men came behind Le Blanc and touched her shoulder or raised her arm and sometimes she did the same to them, clouds, like ships, passing before our eyes. Port de Bras was usually to the side or in an extended V salutation evoking Isadora Duncan, minus the drama, but echoing the form. Midway through Baryshnikov executed the jumps immortalized in the striking photo of Hawkins in the same role.However, the movement is executed so that it is seen in profile,not full on as Hawkins is displayed in photos. It all seems so familiar;then there is this off touch. Carefully constructed, rigorously performed, I had this stray thought whose floating echoed the work, "And they think work now is far out!"
Seeing this piece, now past 40 years, made me wonder whether there might not be a lot of repetition going on.
The Experts reflects Baryshnikov's funny bone, and I think he has loads of it. I remember Push Comes to Shove and Murder with the Edward Gorey designs and adored such high class clowning. The
Experts has to belong to the collection. It is performed on the stage open left and right all the way. At back a sheet of white h extends like the backdrop for a photo session in a studio. There is a small mound of white upstage left and the stage is covered with strips of bubble wrap which get rhythmicly and randomly popped, depending on what one of the dancers is doing.Where sub-titles normally are displayed, there is a projection of a racing car which zooms across its face in varying speeds through the entire proceedings.
I think proceedings is a good description. The garments look like an assembly of props for that photographer's shoot,and the dancers, as models, await their moment to play for the camera - in this case, the eyes of the audience. Jennifer Howard, in blue leggings and several layers under a white men's shirt, starts off executing exchappes en demi-pointe forward and back, endlessly,
beguiling the audience with whether or not she will register a bubble burst every time she executes that slice onto demi pointe.
It's that inane obcession one gets in a minor undertaking,dogged, determined, totally out of proportion with the business of life, but very much there.
I think that describes the work quite well, except that it was gleefully pointless. Roger C. Jeffrey was decked out in a black
maybe a wet suit, with Love and several other directives painted in white up, down and around the jacket.He had a pair of wings and glistening sequins pasted around his left eye.Emily Coates, a wispy, tallish young woman with curly hair, was decked out with a two layer flouncy skirt, part pannier and the rest dripping tails to mid calve. When Baryshinikov, dressed like the late David Wood in Clytemnestra or images of Ted Shawn in Men Dancing, appears with his hands cuffed and emits in varying tones "Aohaa",
Coates flutters up behind him, gently touching him with her left hand and says "Yes" with an equally varying tone and volume. Pure ham bone, in between Coates fluttered around the stage.Le Blanc was garbed in a pink pant suit and her hands were pinioned too.
The cluster of humanoids on the white mound, stretched and sauntered around regarding the antics. At one point Misha executed two masterpieces of frenzy, making rock musicians look like amateurs. Bravos greeted this section. There also was a passage where the hands take up the frenzy and another minted passage was where Misha regarded the goings on with acute observation before executing something similar, in miniature because of his cuffed wrists.
This alternate observation,then selected participation, dead pan, seemed to comprise the entire work. The repetition of a given movement or its imitation made the comment how a person gets sucked into a collective habit, often by sheer boredom,or semi-detachment, while there totally unrelated activities happen.
When the curtain fell, Sonya Kostich, expressionless and face front, was executing a series of beautifully balanced, developpes a la seconde which threatened to become the six o'clock which causes so much controversy. The rest of the dancers were upstage right watching, without expression.
The costumes and general zaniness emphasized the different body shapes of the eight dancers. Kostich, whom I loved watching at S.F. Ballet before she took off for Zurich, is the perfect, dark-haired, delicate boned, sloping shoulder and well-turned out ballet dancer, all enhanced by her Asian facial features. Emily Coates has an equally well proportioned body, also somewhat delicate, but taller and hinting at the grande dame. Jennifer Howard, a honey blonde verging on the Scandanavian maiden, slightly heftier in size. Le Blanc is broadshouldered for a woman, moving with grace and authority, if the inflections in port de bras elude her in favor of overall line and rhythmic emphasis.
The three men, Baryshnikov included, are hefty, if different in size, Jeffrey the tallest, Anaya, the possessor of the squarest and strongest torso, and Baryshnikov small and compact, the Russian demi-charactere dancer who defied stereotyping by size.
Chacony was an extended essay in three women playing against two men, a great deal of turning of the torso and epaulement as feet
executed pas de bourrees or grand jetes in varying intensity
parallel and on the diagonal. Entrances and exits were frequent and in different combinations of twos and threes. The piece ended when Baryshnikov took the stage to repeat some of the figures solo to lunge on the diagonal down stage from upstage left with
startling strength and intent. Then he turned and walked upstage
left, back to the audience, as the last notes and the curtain fell.
Mikhail Baryshnikov opened the program with Largo, a singularly understated solo, notable for an accent here and there with the arms, an inflection which became a pause and a sudden sharp turn of the head at the end of a passage. Several movements were introduced and executed with superb restraint, evoking the grace and mannerliness one associates with the baroque and reflecting the clarity of thought which the Enlightenment represented in
cultural development. I said to my friend, "If ever anyone represented intelligence in movement, Baryshnikov is it."
That is why, I think, we continue to watch him, to yell bravos, for the clarity on intent and execution remains. What a privilege to regard it.