Surmounting Impressively

Heather Harrington takes on Shakespeare; Curt Haworth articulates release dancing

Even if it is only the inspiration for a new work, it is an undeniably large task to take on Shakespeare. The themes are timeless, but it is not enough to rely on that universality to carry a piece. With an audience that generally knows the story, a director or choreographer is challenged to offer somewhere new, or somewhere old in a new way, or at the very least somewhere extremely beautiful.

The weekend of October 16 to 19, Heather Harrington presented “Imitations of Drowning” at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery. Inspired by “Macbeth,” or more specifically the madness of Lady Macbeth, Harrington strives ambitiously to use the characters as jumping off points to get to the meaty emotional subject of irreversible actions and their personal consequences.

Overall, the piece is weighed down with over-articulated gesture and overacted dramatics, but there are also beautiful moments in the midst of the excess. A duet between Harrington and her Macbeth, Branislav Henselmann, begins as a stilted but romantic tango. Tension rises and the tango becomes violent. Henselmann strains with a reaching leg back, but is snapped back by the strength of Harrington’s stillness to her rigid embrace. The dangerous passion between them is evident in every muscle because their focus is so physical. The dance itself propels the tension.

Supporting the dance were the fantastic costumes made by Patti Gilstrap—sheaths of skin, blood, and bruise -colored fabrics with elastic cords that could be pulled away from the body like stretched tendons. A dancer could rip out their heart by pulling at the cord near their chest or wrap up another in a web of confused lines.

The strengths of “Imitations of Drowning” are most often found on this directly visual level. The first and the last images of the dance are practically pure translations of the title––Harrington in a swirling pool of light, eerily peaceful, her loose hair stretched up above her head as if gravity doesn’t exist—as if she is floating. These two moments are physically wrenching. I won’t argue that the literalness of these moments should be carried through the piece—one would tire quickly of such blatant representation and yearn for the bigger movement that Harrington can provide, but there is a simplicity of expression present in it that the rest of the work wants.

Choreography that employs the vocabulary of release technique struggles against a monotony of tone. Well-trained release dancers inherently make everything look too easy. They add breath and weight and push and pull in such balanced quantities that as a viewer I am often bored.

In “Glass Box,” Haworth retrogrades phrases of movement to create the effect of rewinding the dance; the performers vary the speed and crispness of each step, bend, arch, turn to accentuate the backwards pull and the inevitability of returning to the beginning.

Haworth’s second strength is in making the performance space dynamic. He uses many configurations of the five dancers on stage: pairings, triangles, lines, curves. Stillness happens in counterpoint to big movement. In “Glass Box,” Haworth allows the dancers to move off the main dance floor into the architectural space beyond and in effect involves the church building in the performance—it stretches and shrinks with them.

Haworth also injects a filmic sensibility into the piece, adding a psychological element that works against the abstract nature of the dancing. “Amnesia” has elements of a David Lynch movie—the creepily beautiful cabaret performer/ interrogation subject under a spell. “I don’t remember… it wasn’t me…I didn’t do anything,” she repeats under a spotlight in the foreground while an active punchy trio grinds in the shadows behind, while a still composed figure sits in the distance. The duet that develops from this speech and draws the piece to its conclusion is a combination of all these three positive qualities of Haworth’s work—talent, dynamism, and its cinemagraphic feel.

As such, the conclusion is as far from boring as one can get.

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