Metamorphoses

BY BRIAN MCCORMICK | Despite empty seats at every performance of Yanira Castro + Company at Dance Theater Workshop, it'll be standing room only for her new evening-length work. A dance installation with an immersive visual and sound environment, “Center of Sleep” features a collapsible, mobile set, with mini-stages that open out and close again. There is no seating, and the audience will have to choose where to stand, when to move, and what, if anything, to do.

Castro's artistic approach has as much to do with working with the physical possibilities of a space as it does with the body. She doesn't create site-specific work per se, but spatial design is integral.

“It's a matter of finding the right space,” said the artist, “and then creating the right environment.”

YANIRA CASTRO + COMPANY

“Center of Sleep”

Dance Theater Workshop

219 W. 19th St.

Feb. 27-Mar. 1 at 7:30 & 9:30 p.m.

$20; $12

212-924-0077 or dtw.org

For Castro, that means an integrated design of dance, lighting, costumes, music, and space. Moreover, like installation artists, she is interested in influencing exactly how audiences and visitors experience her art.

In 2002, Castro presented the gorgeous “Cartography” at the grand Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn, featuring four duets in four separate locations – from basement to roof – representing each season.

In 2005, she used the Brooklyn Lyceum, a 4,000-square-foot former public bathhouse, for her masterpiece, “Beacon,” which placed audience members in Plexiglas enclosures – as jurors, prisoners, or powerless observers – of an existential horror in which we all shared responsibility or complicity. Cold and uncomfortable, the audience faced aggravations, but they seemed petty as the dancer Pamela Vail suffered before our shielded selves. Camus always comes to mind when I think of this work, as well as Passolini's “Salo,” one of the films Castro researched in creating “Beacon.”

Her last site-based dance work, “(fetus)twin,” presented by The Chocolate Factory in 2006, consisted of two installations that highlighted the venue's ground floor and basement performance spaces. A duet, followed by a solo during which audience members listened through headphones to a surgeon severing spinal nerves, “(fetus)twin” was about loss, said Castro, “losing a twin, a match, a sibling, a parent, a limb.”

In “Center of Sleep,” which will be performed by Peggy Cheng, Luke Miller, Heather Olson, and Joseph Poulson, Castro's interest lies in the radical changes that occur to the body during sleep, gestation, and metamorphosis. In a studio showing, it felt as if those watching were inside the subconscious of a sleeping adolescent, or the genetic memories of a newborn baby starting to coalesce.

There are many transformations throughout the piece, physical and environmental, and many costume changes, adding to the fragmented aesthetic. The dancers begin naked, writhing, with their hands pinned behind their backs, like prisoners of a war, or pre-prehensile man. Then they eat soup, humming. They talk, sing, groom each other, watch each other, cluster, pair up, separate, and return. Actions and words spurt, repeat, jumbled, like in a dream. The primal messages penetrate.

The original music and sound design by Stephan Moore will use 13 localized speakers to add to the constantly shifting dynamic, surrounding and leading the action. The score will be performed live with musicians Michael Haleta and Scott Smallwood, with some interaction based on where people are standing.

“The music,” said Castro, “is the hormones of the work. It triggers the transformations.”

The work also features guest appearances that will undoubtedly trigger how some people perceive it, not to mention their hormones. It's safe to say that “Center of Sleep” is one of the most beautiful, primal images you're likely to see on any New York stage.

The writer hosts a Coffee and Conversation pre-show talk on February 27 at 6:30 p.m. Susan Marshall hosts a post-show talk the same evening following the 7:30 show. A Thursday Night Toast will be held on February 28 following the 9:30 p.m. show.

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