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Armitage Gone! Dance

by Rajika Puri
May 27, 2004
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800

Armitage Gone! Dance

The Joyce Theater, New York, NY. March 2 to 7, 2004

www.joyce.org

w. Leonides D. Arpon, Leone Barilli, Brian Chung, Megumi Eda, Theresa Ruth Howard, William Isaac, Valerie Madonia, Cheryl Sladkin, and Special Guests: Sharmila Desai, Bendeleon, Mecca, Aviance Milan.

by Rajika Puri
May 27, 2004

What do ballet, yoga, modern dance, voguing, capoeira and Bharatanatyam have in common? In a nutshell: Karole Armitage - whose Time is the Echo of an Axe within Wood had its world premier at the Joyce Theater on March 2nd. The work, just over an hour long, is essentially composed in Ms Armitage's particular blend of modern dance and ballet which takes its inspiration from Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine, though there are also hints of the Brazilian martial art in the choreography. Towards the end, we watch an Indian dancer performing yoga asanas, followed by three voguers who, among other things, contort their bodies in various ways.

For the most part Ms Armitage captivates us with her inventiveness. The muscular and well-trained bodies of the dancers from her regular company seem to explore the very act of moving as their limbs unfold and reach out into space and torsos slowly tilt off the axis of gravity leaving them in unexpected places. This quality of discovery is enhanced by the dream-like space lit by Clifton Taylor into which they enter and exit. Walking in from behind a bead curtain (designed by David Salle and hung along three sides of the stage) they move - alone or partnered - in a sort of ebb and flow of familiar and unfamiliar moves. Into this white, silvery landscape are introduced the petite, dark-skinned body of Sharmila Desai, followed by the flamboyant presences of Bendeleon, Mecca, and Aviance Milan.

Karole Armitage, who lives a bi-continental existence, is currently choreographer in residence for the Ballet de Lorraine and has been chosen to direct the 2004 Venice Biennal of Contemporary Dance. In the past, she been director of the Magio Danza festival in Florence, and has choreographed works for the Paris Opera Ballet. As performer, she began her career in Switzerland - with Balanchine's Geneva Ballet - before she joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and a prestigious French government award: Chevalier dans L'ordre des Arts et Lettres. Her credentials are impeccable.

M. Armitage is also known as 'the punk ballerina' because, when she first started her own company: Armitage Gone! Dance in 1980, she became known for the use of loud music and aspects of popular culture not usually associated with 'serious' dance forms like ballet and modern dance. She herself appeared on rock videos with Madonna and Michael Jackson and was involved in voguing - a dance form named for its reference to the flourishes of fashion models on a catwalk and associated with Latino and African-American drag queens. Her collaborators include visual artists like Jeff Coons and fashion designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier. Her profile is not typical.

This dual aspect of Ms. Armitage is reflected in Time. On the one hand her choreography is soundly based in formal roots - one of its first images is of Megumi Eda slowly lifting a leg and suspending it in air, her toes arched and pointed to perfection - on the other, she remains fascinated with movements that go beyond what would normally be considered 'dance'. For example, instead of having Ms Desai perform classical Indian dance movements, she has her flow through some of the more impossible poses of yoga. The voguing, too, draws more attention to the suppleness of the movers' bodies than to the dance form per se. Thus, again, we are captivated as much by the act of moving as with the moves.

One is also reminded of Twyla Tharpe's early forays into choreography which juxtaposed ballet with the casual movements of her company members jiving or performing other kinds of American social dance. Just as the lone Joffrey dancer performing steps from the ballet dictionary in Deuce Coupe never really got involved with the 'street dancers', so in Time the core members of Ms. Armitage's company don't often interact with her guest artists. Downstage center Ms. Desai might crawl in the 'crocodile walk' of the south Indian martial art form kalaripayat but further upstage Cheryl Sladkin and Ben Harris continue with their duet, seemingly oblivious of her.

The juxtapositions serve to highlight Ms Armitage's own idiom of western 'art dance' which gains an extra dimension as it is seen through the curtain of alien movement forms. With these contrasting ways of moving, Ms Armitage reveals her commitment to an eclectic aesthetic that would allow 'kosher' western forms like modern ballet to co-habit in equal comfort with eastern movement traditions and with 'upstart' popular forms from their own culture. For the moment, however, apart from a few leg moves from capoeira, she seems content not to meld any of these movements onto her own choreography.

Yet the very juxtaposition - aided by Peter Speliopoulous' simple, leotard-based, costumes - reveals similarities. We note that a common characteristic of ballet, modern dance, yoga, voguing and martial arts is that they all require an amazing flexibility. Part of our fascination with them is that, because of this pliability, the very act of moving inspires awe. In Time, Ms Armitage exploits this quality in her dancers - and reminds us how fascinated she is by pliability, in so many senses of the word.


in photo: (L to R) Sharmila Desai, Ben Harris & Cheryl Sladkin
Photo courtesy of Max Vadukul



Sharmila Desai, Ben Harris & Cheryl Sladkin in 'Time. . .'
Photo courtesy of Max Vadukul

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