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Richard Penberthy
Performance Reviews
The Joyce Theater

Emio Greco|PC - Conjunto di NERO - Are You Not Afraid in the Dark?

by Richard Penberthy
January 20, 2006
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011

Emio Greco|PC - Conjunto di NERO - Are You Not Afraid in the Dark?

presented at
The Joyce Theatre
175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street
New York, NY 10011

Richard Penberthy
January 20, 2006

Emio Greco|PC, a company of six dancers, led by Emio Greco, performed Conjunto di NERO (Conjunction of BLACK) at the Joyce Friday night, January 20. This is night, magnificent night, all that is night, onstage. All the elements of this production are made with care and have particular, unitary impact. Each as well contributes to the cumulative sable weight that overcomes the stage.

Dancers wear unevenly hemmed 3/4 length black pullover cassocks (costume design by Clifford Portier) of the same fabric that walls the stage. This is the fabric of a hair shirt - garb of the grieving - and reads as essential discomfort, as if made of uncarded fleece and scorched tow fiber. Throughout the dance, it sheds floating clumps of hair into the charcoal atmosphere.

As the audience enters the auditorium, the stage curtain is partially raised and already two dancers are in motion at the back of the stage, moving to the beginnings of the sound collage by Wim Selles which ranges from near inaudibility to driving tempo and shattering loudness. A dancer in the light - a series of downspots playing through a hovering cloud of stage smoke - performs a slow but elaborate semaphore, while another in shadow behind her echoes her movements in an approximation rather than pure mimicry.

This shadow figure has importance through most of the dance, sometimes almost disappearing, but lingering as a figure barely realized, sensed rather than seen as one might sense a figure by the side of a road on a black night, in the fog. Sometimes the shadow very, very slowly paces at the verges of awareness while a fever of dance whirls at center stage, and at other times, the shadow merely stands.

Throughout the performance, light and dark play subtly over the stage (Henk Danner, lighting design). This is not a piece for roving spots, but rather one of stark contrasts - bright light - into which and out of which the dancers enter and exit, eclipsing themselves, transferring attention to another piece of the dance.

Inevitably, some sections of the dance stand out over others. In one of these, three dancers perform stunning, nearly impossible choreography - how can a dancer count to unmetered sound, and how perform without visual cues? They interact in the darkness with tight precision. An example from among the several astounding elements of their trio: two men fall to the stage in mirrored position, foot-to-foot, heads opposite, and simultaneously roll the diagonal width of the stage, at high speed, their feet pointed. The effect of their pointed feet is that of two bladed chariot wheels running a parallel course on an archaic battlefield. Through this whirling threat, the third dances upright, not watching. Every move is completed with full conviction and without fear…and ultimately, without mishap.

This trio is the choreographic masterpiece of the evening. It is here that the dark cassocks, the stark lighting, and the raging sound bring the audience into a new receptivity, a vulnerability, to the dance. The sound panics into heartbeat, then double and triple tempo heartbeat and the warning sounds of danger - wailing train whistles and running. The dancers gesture and stretch without reaching, they glance sidelong at each other and at the audience to see but turn away as if frightened that they see, they do not connect, they move together in carefully choreographed disorder, as if persecuted, they shrink into their hair shirts in fitfulness, and when separated, pound the stage with feet and heads. Here is the sleepless night, and anxiety-ridden midnight, the unsuccessful escape attempt of the somnambulent. It is uncomfortable to watch. It is unconstrained, revealing, courageous choreography and performance. The section ends with the wailing whistle, and dancers run into what seem to be the oncoming lights of a train.

The rest of the evening is good, even very good. But it is no longer dance that burrows into the subconscious. If that trio, that kernel of imposed awareness had not preceded it…. But, the trio is indelible.

The final section of the performance sees Mr. Greco reenter the stage without the dark shirt. He wears a skin tone dance brief to perform a spectacular solo turn of quirky and searching dance. He, at the end, is bathed in blue light, and appears to be performing nude. It is a carnival effect, garish and intentionally sad.

But the audience may well remember the trio forever for its fearsome truthfulness, as a dark matter, as a performance that almost frightened us.

Emio Greco
Photo courtesy of Jean Pierre Stoop

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