Transforming an old factory into a ‘jury room;’ re-staging a happy ending
Yanira Castro is not coming to a theater near you. She prefers to map her work out in a terrain dissociated from conventional performance venues and bring the energy of the particular space into her work. It can be both a refreshing and discomforting experience for audiences used to sitting passively.
For her latest work, “Beacon,” Castro ups the ante with an installation and with ideas that find inspiration in the perverse.
The space, located at Fourth Avenue and President Street in Brooklyn, used to be a city bathhouse. Castro spent more than a year looking for the right environment for the work. Her last work, “Cartography,” was an architectural poem installation of body language and media textures that the audience moved through as they explored the warehouse spaces, tiny rooms, alleyways and rooftops of the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn.
For her next show, finding an inspiring Manhattan venue proved difficult. The one potential spot, an abandoned warehouse in Chelsea between 10th and 11th Avenues, was torn down about a week after Castro came upon it. So, she persisted in Brooklyn.
Having passed the Brooklyn Lyceum many times on her way to the American Can Factory, Castro imagined there was a gymnasium inside. But when she finally walked in, she knew instantly it was the perfect environment. “It was just a question of them giving it to me,” she said, plus the need to convince Dance Theater Workshop, the producing organization, to mount the show there.
The space is “very raw,” Castro acknowledged, and her challenge is in “transforming it into a space that audiences can come to and dancers can dance in, in January.” Two weeks before opening, Castro said her main concerns were “constructing the installation and heating issues.” Unlike “Cartography,” which thematically spanned the seasons, “Beacon” “is a winter piece.”
“There is not such a thing as a neutral space,” said Castro, which is why she likes to actively “specify the relationship between performer and audience” by designing specific spaces for each piece. But in this case, “the more we were there, the more we realized the space is the installation. What was lacking was a way to [architecturally] relate the audience to the dance.”
Castro and her collaborators decided to place the audience members in some sort of container.
“We are going to house the audience in four witness boxes,” said Castro, with 15 people in each enclosed space. “Audience members will be separated from people they come with, because I want them to have this experience alone.”
All this is a reaction to “our current atmosphere of violence,” said Castro, who has referenced ancient Greek tragedies as a source for coping with a constant state of tension. “In Aeschylus, the center event is never present,” she said, adding, “In our mediated culture, that is how we experience everything. The aftermath.”
That is how she describes “Beacon,” as a landscape of the aftermath.
“I can’t express violence directly,” said Castro, but the physical expression of pent-up emotions comes out as anger, shock, sadness and more. “I watched a lot of films that deal with violence,” she said. Films like Pasolini’s “Saló” and “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” served as inspirations for the work, as well as Jen-Luc Godard’s “Notre Musique,” not to mention, in general, the art of Francis Bacon.
No doubt passions will be stirred by this engagement and more than minds engaged.
“I don’t want to shut out the beheadings. I want to cope and deal,” said Castro.
And in doing so, she has made a work that expresses the dislocation that many of us feel—and puts it on the stand for our singular selves to judge.
It’s so rare to find happy endings in recent dance performances, but Wally Cardona’s “Him, There, Them” is positively uplifting. Even in troubled times, after painful experiences, in a world where there is so much disconnection, there is always hope, so this piece seems to convey.
Hope blossoms into a solo, a quartet, and finally a duet, not to mention seven drums, one piano and a love song skipping on the record player in perpetuity. White cubes, green grass, white paths lead up the sides of the walls. These are the structures that frame Cardona’s wrenching and curiously beautiful dance.
A line of seven snare drummers, threatening in both sound and appearance, backs the volatile energy of anger and isolation in “Him,” a solo for Cardona. His sense of alienation is tangible, as his actions are both self-involved and self-defeating. Cardona, who was in a childhood marching band, said of the drum line, “The precision of it is otherworldly and a little scary. The visual impact and whatever they turn into when they play.”
In “There,” he is joined by Kathryn Sanders, Joanna Kotze and Matthew Winheld, who present a society whose norms have been upturned, but the language—a rhythmic, robotic lyricism with awkward and agile locomotion choices—survives, to allow random acts of connection that seem magical, but are fleeting and unproductive.
Finally, in “Them,” Cardona and long-time dancer/collaborator Kathryn Sanders join in a duet that evolves into a series of twisting figure eights and non-unison dancing that is luminous and powerfully human.
Cardona, a meticulous choreographer and exceptionally graceful dancer, began his career as a performer in Ralph Lemon Company. When he began to choreograph in 1992, he said, he would always ask himself, “What in this is like Ralph? Before I was more reactionary. Now when I make stuff I look at it and identify the old stuff. Stuff slips in, he said, “but that is what makes work rigorous. When you see a work and can tell that the choreographer looked at everything and consciously made a decision that this belongs.”
His own technically grounded movement aesthetic is “constantly changing,” said Cardona, “and I become aware, as time passes, of the things that continue.”
For his next work, which is being co-produced by BAM’s Next Wave Festival and the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), he plans on working with the dancers in different way.
“Before I knew exactly what I wanted. Now I approach it more like a writer or director with a score, and allow the dancers to unearth things as performers, to be in the moment with their own unique physicality. From the audience, these things may seem small. It’s easy to just slip into the movement. It’s performative—‘You look like a dancer,’ I’ve said. ‘I want to see Matthew.’”
This same quality is evident in “Him, There, Them,” and it gives a welcome lightness and honesty to the work. This is a repeat engagement, back by popular demand, following its premiere last year at The Duke on 42nd Street. Once again, there are only five performances. Masterpieces like this don’t come along all the time—beautiful dancers, powerful visual elements, meaningful and methodical choreography and accessible music, both live and electronic.