Bittersweet Dreams

In his program bio, Walter Dundervill calls himself a dance artist, but that hardly begins to cover his creative contributions to his latest evening, “Aesthetic Destiny 1: Candy Mountain” (at Dance Theater Workshop, through February 19), for which he created the choreography and designed and made the set and costumes.

Wisely, he left creating the music to Justin Luchter, who furnishes eerie aural textures and funky rhythms. Carrie Wood was responsible for providing the atmospheric lighting.

Dundervill, originally trained in painting and drawing, straddles dance, political theater, visual art installation, and fashion in his ambitious, on-a-shoestring spectacles. But his imagination makes this hour-long creation for a dozen dancers and actors comical, raunchy, and poignant by turns –– as well as theatrically vivid.

Walter Dundervill’s “Candy Mountain” ends in delicate, ambivalent fetishism

As the audience enters DTW’s black box theater, Dundervill is onstage, arranging and adjusting the colorful, mountain-shaped cutouts –– painted in candy-bright hues by Christopher Batenhorst –– that are scattered across the spacious stage, which has been stripped of all its drapery.

Dancers in diaphanous black tunics enter and gradually remove the props, then lie in a circle, heads in, feet out, forming a sunburst. They clap their legs together, counting down the hours. Rolling over between each, they warp the circle into a loose oval.

Wearing candy-colored polygons as hats, they stride in threes back and forth across the stage in a ceremonial preamble. Then, in a little playlet, Janet Dunson and Kevin Lovelady try to convince a reluctant Ben Boatright to come along on their impending trip. They speak their lines and their stage directions, highlighting the artifice of the dialog.

When the stage gets transformed, with the assist of Dundervill in his only other onstage appearance of the evening, a giant muslin mountain soars to full stage height and the actors’ heads protrude from underneath. A “big dance number” ensues, with everyone doing syncopated high stepping and big kicks. Six-foot-plus Burr Johnson, who anchors the kick line center stage, is a visual magnet with his Rockettes-high extensions.

After this high-powered number, the piece turns to installation mode and the pace slackens momentarily. The performers parade around, laying fluorescent ribbons in a complex grid on the floor. Then, as they continue marching, they untie their bunched up skirts, letting them drape full length and fall off, turning the floor into a colorful abstract “painting” of strewn fabric and trim.

Brilliantly, a human “mop” next sweeps the floor clean; three guys using their feet to push a trio of seated women across the floor on their butts from behind. As they slide along, the women gather up the ribbons and skirts.

The final duet for Johnson and Ben Asriel is all the more sensual for its delicacy and hint of fetishism. The point of sexual contact for the men is their feet. Lying on the ground, they join their soles, legs splayed, and rock side to side. After curving their arms together into a heart shape, they roll upside down, each stretching one leg upwards until they touch toes in an inverted heart. The partners are sensually tactile while ostensibly remaining detached.

The duet is touching for what it betrays while refusing to admit. This passionate, heartbreaking union ends the piece with tender ambivalence.

Complete Information:

WALTER DUNDERVILL

“Aesthetic Destiny 1: Candy Mountain”

Dance Theater Workshop

219 W. 19th St.

Feb. 16-19 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $20; dancetheaterworkshop.org

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