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Kitt Johnson — "Rankefod"

by Lori Ortiz
October 9, 2008
Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue)
St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
New York, NY 10003
(212) 674-8112
To gurgling, static, and whispering, Kitt Johnson's "Rankefod" begins with a backlighted butterfly image on a black backdrop. To the left, what at first resembles a low, squat, chair, is actually the seated dancer's back. Johnson seems to squeeze out from a bright spot on the black cloth, as if emerging from a cocoon. Her elbows move in and out stiffly, like an insect unfolding. What hard work entering the world alone. Her appendages appear amputated at the elbows or wrists, disappearing into the blackness outside Mogens Kjempff's light.

Johnson is long-legged, and with little bulk on her thorax or arms. In "Rankefod," number two in her series X-act, she begins with the rigor of a motherless, emerging creature. She wears only a cream-colored cloth, wrapped bulkily around her lower private parts, but conveys as much strength as vulnerability in this solo performance at Danspace Project, October 9th, 2008.

The backdrop curtain she emerges from is hung across the church nave, and we sit on the far stepped altar. Sitting with her back to us, she flicks her elbows, knees and hands in a rhythmic pattern, streaking the light in and out against her torso. Then, travelling on her bottom, she grabs the floor and pulls herself forward with her knees, feet, or hands, to creep on her side in a vertiginous-looking acrobatic locomotion. Extending a leg a few feet off the floor and straightening it fully, she pushes at the solid blackness, with a flattened foot. Her toes spread as if naturally webbed.

"Metamorphosis?" The chimerical Dane Johnson's insectoid form with its sculpted torso and unfolding appendages next undergoes a reptilian phrase. She hydraulically pumps her pelvis off the floor from a crouched position, to the sound of stirred, broken glass.

Then, after a horizontal half-turn, she's facing upward, low to the ground and supported by all fours. Her swaddled posterior swings from side to side, rubbing away at the Marley. Composer and performer Sture Ericson chimes in with a tick-tock in a wonderfully timed, live laptop performance of his organic soundscape.

Meanwhile, the cool primordial backdrop is ever morphing, apparently by the light on its illusionistic crevices. It doubles as black cave interior and landscape of steppes. In the houselights before and after the show, we see only a simple black cloth. The magical effect of this textile scenery by Charlotte Østergaard, who also designed Johnson's costume, completes the phantasmagoric collaboration.

Emerging full-length, Johnson folds herself over, looking at us through the slit between her shuddering legs. In doing so, she creates a striking, black stroke of her posterior centerline between the shimmering light on her inner thighs, dividing her brightly lit body bilaterally. Finally, facing forward at her most humanoid, and at the music's crescendo, she runs from side to side, riffing on the rhythmic ritual she began on the floor. Then she drops to a fetal position, centered upstage.

In a coda, she comes forward, stooped and staring limpidly at us. We confront old age. Reaching out, she presses down, meeting the resistance of an imaginary cane. Her palm flattens over the blackness. The whitefaced Johnson rightly takes the butoh tradition as an open source, drawing on it especially for her ending walk into the footlights. With bewitching artistry, she avoids the pitfalls of tackling such a timeworn subject. In this fresh and engaging 45-minute natural history, she dances the breadth of life.
Kitt Johnson in 'Rankefod'

Kitt Johnson in "Rankefod"

Photo © & courtesy of Per Morten Abramson


Kitt Johnson in 'Rankefod'

Kitt Johnson in "Rankefod"

Photo © & courtesy of Per Morten Abramson

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