Dangers In The Night

Noémie Lafrance creates dance for which you never need leave the parking lot

I’m sitting in the back seat of a white Cadillac Coupe de Ville with three women I’ve never met, when suddenly this fellow in a trench coat and fedora runs through the parking ramp and disappears. A woman in a fur jacket and hat strides through in the opposite direction. We realize there’s another trench-coated guy behind our car, watching. The woman in fur reappears, retracing the same path. A blonde in a flimsy cocktail dress strolls in the cool evening, smoking. A man on crutches limps up the ramp with his date. Another woman runs desperately on one broken high heel, escaping from who knows what. The woman in fur returns.

Canadian American choreographer Noémie Lafrance made a big splash two seasons ago with “Descent,” which took its audience down the twelve-story stairwell of the City Court Building Clock Tower, watching movement episodes below, then above them. Now, co-presented by Danspace Project and Sens Productions as part of the 2004 Whitney Biennial, Lafrance has created “Noir” in the municipal parking garage at Essex and Delancey.

Originally scheduled for May 5-22, the run has been extended through May 29. Mining imagery form Hollywood cinema of the forties, the site-specific piece takes us on a 50-minute adventure in the dark, inherently suspenseful space.

The audience sits in 30 cars parked around the periphery of the ramp. Front seats cost more than rear ones. Brooks Williams’s score, broadcast through the cars’ radios, sets a mood of mystery with electronic noise, then builds dramatic tension with snippets from movie sound tracks like “Mildred Pierce,” “Double Indemnity,” “Cape Fear,” and other classics, ominous footsteps, gunshots, and musical improvisations by Walter Baker, Adam James Wilson, Benny Goodman, and others. Men inspect the trunks of cars; a woman peers through our windshield; the man on crutches tumbles to the ground hurrying back down the ramp.

Imaginative lighting by Thomas Dunn, and momentarily, a crystal chandelier, mirrored panels, and Venetian blinds, by set designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella, transport us from real garage to imaginary shadowy street, ballroom, casino, and swank hotel. Strategically placed scoop lights, overhead fluorescents, and piercing white spotlights under the front fenders of the cars illuminate dancers’ couplings in what looks like a cross between a wrestling match and a love affair. Slick gangsters in sharp business suits romance and manhandle chichi dames with Marcel waved hair in filmy frocks. The costumes are by Lafrance, hair and make-up by Alexandra Shaska.

Vivid characterizations and panoramic action create a mood of tense anticipation. A couple of hoods stuff a dead body into a car trunk; a gangster and his moll pull off a heist and flee with a suitcase of loot. Ksenia Vidyaykina as “Gilda” strums a guitar and lip-synchs “Put the Blame on Mame.” Eric Bradley as “Ballen Mundson” follows her, dragging a huge black tarp. All ten dancers pair up on the tarp for a horizontal tango. A car alarm goes off with blaring horn and blinking lights—an anachronism, but never mind.

The other wonderful dancers—Einy Aam, Andy Black, Jeff Crumrine, David Kieffer, Jon Kowalski, Ori Lenkinski, Tori Sparks, and Emma Stein—are totally convincing as ersatz cronies of Bogart, Crawford, Hayworth, and Bacall. With meticulous attention to detail, Lafrance shuttles us back in time for an adventure, black-and-white talkies style, with the self-empowered heroines and macho heroes we still love.

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