Piercing the Blackness

Emio Greco|PC dances out of the void

By GUS SOLOMONS JR.

A tall woman in a shapeless black wool dress lunges and stretches, back to us, in a strip of white light. The woman, Susan Tunca, wears toe shoes but doesn’t ascend to full point. Thick mist articulates the beams of white lights that draw glowing bands across the stage floor. Tunca recedes into the darkness upstage. A moment later she returns, and a shadow, Barbara Meneses Gutierrez, mirrors her movement, dancing just at the edge of the light. Is there another figure in the darkness? The faint suggestion in the darkness is Sawami Fukuoka, the third woman dancer.

So begins “Conjunto Di NERO” (“Conjunction of BLACK”) by the Netherlands-based company Emio Greco|PC, the distinctive collaboration of Italian dancer/choreographer Greco and his Dutch partner Peter C. Sholten, dramaturg and director––although both are billed as choreographer, director. The six-dancer troupe, including Greco, appeared at the Joyce, January 17-22.

Greco’s movement for Tunca is ungainly––a series of lurching lunges and back stretches with shoulders raised and arms outspread, like a big, no-neck bird. At last, she ascends to her full points and hops awkwardly. As the herky-jerky movement grows on you, what’s also intriguing is the play of light and darkness; the dancer is silhouetted at the forward edge of the illuminated strip of floor and then vanishes into the darkness upstage.

Two others emerge from the blackness––elegantly lanky Ty Boomershine and quick, compact Nicola Monaco––for a trio with Gutierrez that shuttles back and forth. After one pass near to the wings, you realize the tall, shaven-headed Boomershine has been magically replaced by the shorter, also bald Greco––a fierce dynamo of a dancer.

The punishing movement language for the dance spills out with relentless persistence––deep lunges with hyper-stretched torsos, flailing arm gestures, skittering runs with little half leaps––done singly and in various groupings over the course of 80 minutes. Greco and co-director Scholten, who also co-created the lighting, set, and sound concept, have made––in their words––“an ever-changing world where the dance drives the light and the light drives the dance.” It steadily builds in intensity with the support of Wim Selles’ deft realization of the soundscape, which ranges from subliminal to heart-stopping.

Onstage, it’s apparent that the intellectual underpinnings of the work are as rigorous as its furious motion, which is often overtly dramatic––a deep squat with diagonally thrust arms crossing the body, scurrying runs along diagonal paths toward narrow beams of light at each corner, throwing mysterious shadows into the space––and marked by startling theatrical accents, like the sudden appearance of Boomershine, standing menacingly still at the crossing point of the light beams.

Narrow shafts and wide bands of light, down pools, and bright square donuts with dark centers that change subtly or abruptly in Henk Danner’s exciting lighting score constantly transform the space, as dancers transform themselves into fluttering, preening avian creatures.

A heart-stopping explosion of sound pins Greco, center-stage, like a fly in a bottle, where his movement turns glacially slow and meditative—the momentary reverie soon reverts to the desperate diagonal darting. Another violent burst comes near the end, where the walls of woolen fabric, like that of the dancers’ unisex black wool dresses by Clifford Portier, are revealed for the first time. Harsh down-spots make the black void dimensional, defining the limits of their habitat.

Here, Greco does a final duet with Gutierrez and a solo, stripped of his black robe. His finely articulated muscles glisten in the eerie blue light, and the physical effort becomes even more visceral. His sinewy body looks like a portrait by his famous Spanish painter namesake. As the surroundings fade into blackness, we are left to ponder the fate of this solitary soul. And is that someone mirroring his movement in the dim twilight?

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