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Guerin's Split Leaves Attentions Divided

by Mindy Aloff
October 17, 2018
Baryshnikov Arts Center
450 West 37th Street, Suite 501
New York, NY 10018
As tempting as it is to call the October 12 U.S. premiere of Lucy Guerin Inc.'s Split at Baryshnikov Arts Center's Jerome Robbins Theater a dance duet, it's really not, even though most of its hour-long running time is occupied by the same two women dancing.

A study in different kinds of physical exactitude, each kind given its own section, and each section further halved by a white tape that is unspooled, stretched out, cut, and positioned to make a new border—a task for the pair to accomplish as a team—Split is more like a lecture-demonstration or a living textbook divided into chapters, whose length and number of lines per page diminish by half and then half again as the number of chapters perused increases.

The first chapter takes place in the largest performing space, a square outlined in white tape. The dancers move in complete—nearly excruciating—synchrony, mostly side by side, almost as if performing a rite. The second chapter takes place in one half the area of the original square and in one half the running time of Lucy Guerin's original choreography; and the action is marked by dramatic tension, with the performers often facing one another, sometimes touching or engaging the other. I remember moments of dominance and submission, but I can't recall if they were in this chapter or the third, which takes place in one half the area and running time of the second.

Subsequent chapters—each separated by the nondancing task for the performers of unspooling, measuring, cutting, and placing the tape to halve the previous square—are marked by their own dynamic of movement, by distinctive lighting, and by differences in the unprepossessing breathy hum of the sound score.

In the last chapter (the sixth square? I lost count), Melanie Lane stands directly behind Lilian Steiner. There is no room for either to take a step; however, still evolving, Ms Lane slowly rises to half-toe as the lights go out.

But what is the subject being demonstrated? As tempting as it is to call it connoisseurship, it's not quite that, even though the audience is provoked to exercise, steadily and without emotional interference, the skill of close looking (and, if the score by Scanner snags your attention, close listening) on which connoisseurship in optical and auditory matters is based.

Each observer is likely to have a unique idea of what it all means—for instance, the demonstration of what is likely to happen over time during an age of overpopulation in an era of climate change. But, as far as meaning is concerned, the major difference I'd point to between the excellent dancers—similar in height and build and, it would seem, age, both barefoot, and each a choreographer in her own right—is that one is nude (Steiner) and one wears an airy, simply cut frock with cap sleeves and a loose skirt ending below the knee (Lane).

I was fascinated to find that, regardless of how dutifully I tried to ignore the nude journey of Ms Steiner in order to follow the clothed actions of Ms Lane, that the loveliness of the former's Venusian figure, like a goddess from a Cranach painting, kept drawing my gaze away from her partner, who, if costuming were reversed, might prove equally eye-catching. Is the source of the magnetism in me or in her? In this context, did my gaze become ineluctably male? Or perhaps the question could be, how did the choreographer arrange the stage conditions in order to insure this perceptual effect? And is the effect psychological, or neurological, or a proof of theatricality even in austere circumstances, given the right calibrations of every relevant element? Meanwhile, against these 21st-century uncertainties, calmly continued the fateful actions inherited from prehistory—the unwinding, measuring out, and cutting of destinies.

Choreographer: Lucy Guerin
Composer: Scanner
Lighting Design: Paul Lim
Sound Design: Robin Fox
Production manager: James Lipari
Producer: Michaela Coventry

Photo © & courtesy of Gregory Lorenzutti

Photo © & courtesy of Gregory Lorenzutti

Photo © & courtesy of Gregory Lorenzutti

Photo © & courtesy of Gregory Lorenzutti

Photo © & courtesy of Gregory Lorenzutti

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