WENDY PERRON DANCE COMPANY
Columbia College Dance Center
May 13 and 14
It's an old theatrical truism that a performer should never share the stage with children or animals; they're surefire attention grabbers. That old warning holds as true today as it ever did, and I regret that Wendy Perron, an extraordinarily imaginative dancer/choreographer, didn't take that warning to heart before she agreed with Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, the Russian emigre designers of her 1987 work Arena, that white pigeons were essential to its presentation and added them to the overall mise-en-scene. On the other hand, perhaps it's fortunate that she settled for pigeons. I've read somewhere that they originally wanted an elephant.
Still, the four dancers--Lisa Bush, Donald Fleming, Kumiko Kimoto, and Vicky Shick--managed, for the most part, to beat the avian competition and keep the audience concentrated on the dance.
The four were clad in Eduard Erlikh's wonderfully trashy costumes that could have been assembled from the remnants of a Cecil B. De Mille epic. Perhaps they are entertainers in some schlocky arena, offering their own bizarre interpretations of Attic dance, done in offbeat hieratic profile, as a takeoff on Nijinsky's Faun.
The choreography has a fragmented quality--shifting from beauty of line to deliberately awkward body placements. A dancer leaps into the arms of a man to find that she is surrounded by the others; they put her down in a strangely convoluted manner, and she ends up upside down. The dancers are connected, yet they are separate entities, much like the fascinating collage of exotic folk music and selections by Saint-Saens, Khatchaturian, and Tchaikovsky put together by David Van Tieghem.
Perron's pas de quatre to the "Coffee" excerpt from The Nutcracker was intriguingly erotic, as Fleming was moved around by the others, though there was nothing overtly sexy in the dance design. At other times the atmosphere grew threatening with bitterness and rivalry. In fact, the entire piece has a cryptic character that leaves one slightly uncomfortable.
There were some strangely poignant, touching moments--once when Fleming walked on with pigeons on his arm, and another time when a pigeon rested on the head of one of the women. At those instants, the human and avian were part of the same, connected world. But for the most part, the pigeons were viewers--totally unrelated to the dance. A few flew up to the rafters after they were released by their handlers. Others roosted on a trapeze and still others stood around on the floor.
The entire performing area was separated from the audience by sheets of black net--to protect us from unwanted souvenirs from the pigeons or to protect the pigeons from us? The black netting gave the work a heavy look and it became even more disturbing when some of the pigeons flew into the mesh barrier. Would the pigeons hurt themselves? Who needed this additional worry at a dance performance? I'd really like to see Arena without the nets and pigeons. It was an interesting experiment, but the dance should really be able to stand on its own. I'm not sure, right now, whether it would hold together consistently without the feathered distractions.
The program opened with Don't Tell Us, a duet for Bush and Kimoto, which was another exploration of profile dance, followed by X-Ray Eyes, a vignette performed by Kimoto and Perron. Here the two women clad in black remained seated while they fingered their faces, shook their heads, and seemed to find fault with their looks. As in every dance, the performers wore sneakers.
Down Like Rain contrasted the relationships between Bush and Tim Buckley, as two puppetlike characters, and Shick and Fleming--barefoot, long-limbed, and elegant in movement. The piece was accompanied by the slow movement from Schubert's Sonata in A. A mysterious old crone--Perron--appears, and the piece concludes with the cast leaving the stage, as Shick pushes the prone Fleming off with her feet. That romantic relationship obviously didn't work out, and I'm not sure about the message, but the dancing was great.
Perron's work has not been seen in Chicago for many years. She has a fascinatingly idiosyncratic way of using her dancers' bodies, as well as a trenchant wit and an offbeat sense of dynamics and rhythms--if this program was at all typical of her recent work. Too bad the news about the pigeons didn't bring more people to the Dance Center; she deserved a larger audience.