How Soon Is Now?

Sam Kim, Luciana Achugar, prove the 80s are not just in Brooklyn

Some places in Brooklyn feel like the ‘80s. Williamsburg and now Cobble Hill have become the East Village, yuppies with suits and shoulder pads mixing freely and unevenly with Latino families and artist-punks amid the new shops and eateries. DUMBO, like Soho in the past, is pushing real artists out of lofts and defacing landmark buildings to make way for moneyed minions.

But it’s not all rezoning, Mohawks and leg warmers.

For three nights in early December at Dance Theater Workshop, Sam Kim reminded us that the ‘80s is back in a good way as well. In “Nobody Understands Me,” the choreographer pays tribute to an era, evoking memories that have a surprising salience today. Remember 1984 when Reagan won re-election? Time to go underground, stop caring for a while and embrace the alienation. Kim, dancing alongside Anna Azrieli and Tracy Dickson, takes us back to the days of post-punk progressive pop when a night at the club gave everyone a chance to play out performance fantasies and it was all about not giving a shit.

“Nobody Understands Me” is a nostalgic reminiscence for a decade of disaffection and “criminally vulgar” shyness that Kim conveys with fondness and self-effacing irony. Anarchy, but with a middle-class twist, like on a T-shirt or at Danceteria. It makes a wry if unintentional connection to the introverted attitude of downtown dance.

With Kim, however, emotion is irrepressible. The faceless dancing is expressive in spite of itself. Songs from groups connected to synth-pop guru Vince Clark dominate the musical landscape—Depeche Mode, Yaz, Erasure—but it is Duran Duran’s “Planet Earth” that launches the action. Kim bounces from one side to another. She moves to her own music, a loner making distanced contact on the dance floor. Her face may be hidden, but when her body leaps, her raised hand twisting joyfully in time, it is hard not to see her as carefree. Later when she dances alone, the hair out of her face, eyes front, her vulnerability is tangible, skirting the border between fabulous and failure.

Azrieli and Dickson’s duet to Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” fondly recalls the poser; their duet to the same group’s maudlin but touching “Somebody” is a perfect translation of this classic pre-goth love anthem, a sweet blend of corn and beauty manifested in leaps and bounds and turning toward each other dramatically.

To evoke the club, Kim with Alex Walsh garlanded the length and height of the stage with a shimmering backdrop of iridescent plastic strips. Michael Stiller’s dynamic, sumptuous, colorful lighting seems to transform their materiality, as they shift from translucent to glittering, from purple to clear, yellow to deep blue, front to back. A chorus of teased-hair, tunic-wearing blondes of all shapes and sizes appears at times from behind the fan-blown curtain, holding apart the strands for entrances. They are Robert Palmer’s supermodels redux, Sparkle Motion all grown up.

Kim shared the program with Luciana Achugar, whose piece “A Super-natural Return to Love” could’ve been called “Killer Pussy Sextet.” A cadre of women—Achugar, Azrieli, Dickson, Willa Carroll, Jennifer Kjos, Kim Osterberger, Beatrice Wong—parade in military formations, two red fingers of one hand raised in a kind of perpetual salute. Dressed in long dark blue housecoats, fishnet stockings and snoods, they suggest Salvation Army cadets. They are expressionless.

The sequences suggest miscarriage, abortion or sacrifice of Motherhood—the dress pulled up, the crotch exposed, thrusting forward, bloodied at the hip. They kneel, back towards the two prop walls, thrusting backwards They paint the walls with the red liquid, drawing it from their hip pockets and fall, sobbing. They are bound by a shared experience, a blood knot.

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