Personable Tales

BY GUS SOLOMONS JR | The program shared by Heather Olson and Walter Dunderville at Dance Theater Workshop March 26-29 exhibited a captivating mixture of silliness and significance. Olson's “Curious awake not possible,” is performed on a white floor with an eight-foot square of black carpet, downstage left, and in the opposite upstage corner, two white bar stools.

Olson and Emily Tschiffely peep around opposite sides of the proscenium; they trudge in rectangular paths; they march over to the front row and stare down the audience. Then they play out a gamut of situations – trust, confrontation, emotional change, and even insomnia. Tschiffely slaps Olson's hand, then asks, “Don't you trust me?” They duel, slicing limbs close to each other like a slow motion knife fight. They toss and turn on their black square “bed” in canon, counterpoint, and unison. James Lo's sound design that ranges from hard rock to delicate noise helps to differentiate the sections.

Olson and Dunderville deliver terrific dancing amidst the drift.

Stream of consciousness structuring almost invariably leads to a dynamic evenness that can leave an audience drifting in and out of attention, and “Curious” is no exception. But the dancing is terrific. Olson, who dances with Tere O'Connor, moves with casual ease even in the most vigorous phrases, and Tschiffely, a regular with David Parker's Bang Group, punctuates her moves more theatrically; the disparate energies of the women's similar physiques are pleasantly complementary.

Dunderville's structural strategy in his “You Wrote the Book” is to tell two discreet narratives simultaneously. Set and costumes, designed and built by the versatile choreographer, simulate an 18th-century drawing room – made of bed sheets with powder-blue trim. Its three occupants wear oversized powdered wigs and muslin reductions of courtly gowns, festooned with ribbons and bows. Benjamin Asriel, Jennifer Kjos, and Penelope Margolis waggle their fingers and pose decorously on foil-covered chairs in the Claes Oldenberg-like “soft room.”

Meanwhile, Athena Malloy and Sarah Perron in contemporary couture lie face down on the ground, windshield-wiping their limbs like high-fashion snow angels. They play out their odd camaraderie around the periphery of the ghostly drawing room. Dunderville in an oversized, hooded suit – he looks like a mummy – acts as deus-ex-machina; he drags the inert characters into their initial positions and relocates them at his whim.

Later, Malloy and Perron scale foil-covered ladders to unhook the walls from their support cables; the room collapses, burying Kjos and Margolis in a sea of fabric. Asriel, Dunderville, Malloy, and Perron change into flimsy, silvery tunics; Kjos and Margolis emerge from their cloth tomb similarly attired; and everyone cavorts in an aerobic Dionysian revel. Topless and naked beneath their shiny tunics, they do jumping jacks then dive to the floor and repeat the horizontal windshield wiping to Justin Lucher's rumbling squawking atmospheric music.

Joe Levausseur – who's also a visual artist – creates distinctive lighting designs for both works. Sunny brightness, alternating with isolated pools glowing in the darkness adds texture to Olson and Tschiffely's strange journey. And a stage-spanning batten of lights, aimed at us, gives Dunderville's bed linen salon a mystical glow, then rises and brightens into our eyes behind the Bacchanalia like a blazing sunrise.

Also this past weekend, another crafty storyteller, Alethea Adsitt, explored the vicissitudes of memory in “Empty Room” at University Settlement, March 27-29. Adsitt plunders the concept of memory with five terrific actor/dancers (Gina Bashour, Courtney Drasner, Jill Frere, Corey Harrower, and Joshua Palmer) and clever video editing by So Young Yang that populates the screen with proliferating cartoon “honey bunnies,” and a life-size couch that dancers pretend to sit on, while it morphs colors.

Frere roller-skates, crashes into a wall in good fun, and plays with dolls. Drasner and Bashour play pat-a-cake. Harrower delivers a treatise on the physiology of memory. Palmer sunbathes, rubbing white lotion along his limbs, which turns out to be fluorescent paint that glows in the dark as he does a crazy, line-drawing solo. There's a perfunctory badminton game between gung-ho Drasner and couldn't-care-less Bashour. Adsitt craftily weaves together text and motion with humor, and insight.

Polaroid snapshots of the action, shot by the performers throughout, begin to litter the stage. The dancers strip off the lines of black tape they've laid on the floor, while the same lines in the video behind them disappear electronically, until the space itself becomes only a memory. Adsitt continues to explore dance-theater ideas smartly and imaginatively. She's another emerging dance maker to keep your eye on.

More from Around NYC