The Rites Of Spring

Familiar source yields unexpected fare

Ask a dance fan which choreographers come to mind when Igor Stravinsky’s name is mentioned, and odds are they’ll cite George Balanchine. But Yvonne Rainer of the Judson Church movement, who roundly rejected many tenets of ballet in her 1965 “No Manifesto?” Not likely—unless they caught Dance Theater Workshop’s “Sourcing Stravinsky,” which featured Rainer’s brilliant riff on “Agon.”

Curated by Annie-B Parson, the evening comprised five works taking inspiration from Stravinsky. David Neumann performed with his company, Advanced Beginner Group, in “Hit the deck. (studies and accidents),” which utilized several Stravinsky compositions played brightly on piano by Carol Wong. It showcased Neumann’s style—loose limbs, darting shifts of direction, and a pedestrian accessibility. Taryn Griggs’ and Chris Yon’s next-door-neighbor looks and style belied a nuanced physical intelligence, particularly in a tango ending by Yon flipping Griggs with sudden precision. Neumann humorously tweaked perception and expectation—abruptly ending scenes and beginning new ones, and mismatching actions and sound effects.

In “Heaven,” Rennie Harris used an excerpt from “The Rite of Spring,” danced by The Collective. At the start, the familiar, swirling music juxtaposed with the earthbound hip hop style felt intriguingly exotic. But as the cast of four women bewitched, drugged, and sacrificed a man, the dance quickly and mercifully ran its course. It felt bereft of kinetic and narrative vision, the dancers largely uninvested in their characters and the performance.

“Track 11” sifted together lots of media and ideas, but little choreographic invention. Dayna Hanson and Linas Phillips wove the issue of homelessness with snapshots of Stravinsky’s itinerant life. Film clips included interviews with homeless men, and riveting footage of Stravinksy in rehearsal, conducting and giving notes. Phillips effected a slacker, referring to excerpts of Stravinsky’s “Fireworks” and “Symphony of Psalms” by CD track number, hence the title. Quirky limp-paw hands and sips from a bottle of gin broke up the strings of prosaic hopping and hacking gestures. Despite the ever-shifting media and dynamics, it came off as preaching about an undeniably important issue.

In the solo “Tsimtsum,” Cynthia Hopkins—performance artist, songwriter, and composer—mused about an unrealized opera by poet Dylan Thomas and Stravinsky. Wearing a silver space suit, her cool lilting voice layered to accompany itself, Hopkins sang of suicide bombers, buildings falling, the end of the world. Space suit discarded to reveal a scarlet dress, her frozen, deliberate movements contrasted with her nimble wordplay and graceful melodies. She sipped from mini bottles of liquor dangling from her costume, a reminder of the artists’ alcohol dependency. She nestled into a rocking chair arranged before a red velvet curtain, awaiting the end of days in some Victorian atomic shelter.

“AG Indexical, with a little help from H.M.,” by Rainer, proved a buoyant finale, in no small part due to the cast. Pat Catterson, Patricia Hoffbauer, and Sally Silvers, all eminences in performance/improvisation, were joined by Emily Coates, who danced with New York City Ballet (and White Oak) and was alone in wearing pointe shoes. Taking Balanchine’s “Agon” as a source, the cast performed—or attempted to—segments of the ballet. The three non-ballerinas looked predictably ungraceful, but their ineptitude emphasized Coates’ ability as well as the skill required in ballet. Silvers, whose earnest face alone was worth the price of admission, tried her best to follow along with a video of the ballet.

Poking the fetishistic worship of the ballerina, Coates became an object herself as the others steadied her on pointe as a partner would, lifted her leg high, and set down her foot like a crystal goblet. The “H.M.” of the title was Henry Mancini, whose “Pink Panther” theme accompanied a reprise of the opening movement phrase. To this music, the finale looked like jazz, not ballet, and the dancers all looked just fine in their individual interpretations.

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