Men are standing, and opposite them are women in grand plié, who tip to the left, then to the right, and change position so that they are kneeling in profile. Their costumes are simple leotards. In fact, it looks as if the company boxed up the dancers and little more than a string of lights and red gels, and set off on tour.
There is silence as the men twist like train couplings into pairs with the women, and then position themselves like sentries in an empty, cold, nighttime desert. For a moment, the men soften and lean into the women. That is the most affect we will see, and it is the cue for A Capella music by Maxin Waratt to begin, with lyrics in Portuguese, the beginning of a mix by Ohad Fishof. A pattern emerges from what at first look like random poses, dancers disconnected from one another, isolates, each on his or her own Gaga-centered journey. In slo-mo, we see that the poses (a modified arabesque or penchée) give way to a short, quick jump, a mad runabout, and then a tableau that assembles all ten dancers, in graduated rows, as if for a class photo. They distribute themselves across the barren landscape and fall to the floor. No chemistry, no alchemy, nothing connects them except their random arrival on the same stage like ball bearings in a Physics exercise. Their movements assume a strategic character. It’s a game of chess with bodies, and the floor is the board. They move in fits and starts, but once a direction is taken, it is done so in haste. The sound effects, which are part of the score, become more identifiable. The dancers disperse themselves into lines, and we hear pops—like from guns—as they respond, contracting or dropping, as if hit by a bullet and felled—or temporarily disabled until they recoil and reload the earlier combinations. A great rolling sound gathers momentum, like a caisson barreling down a road; there is a quick solo, breathing deepens into a whispered utterance. We see an arabesque and hear dripping water over the whisper, and one imagines that the water is dripping from the extended leg, like blood. Is the score accompaniment to the movement, or is the movement an annotation of the score? The lens of the sensory experience needs adjustment with each succeeding sequence of sound and movement.
Movement gives way to dancers sidling up to partners, though they do not dance with them, except in one chassé sequence, where the partners face one another and take a tentative, almost disinterested measure of the calculated steps.
Words are now intoned in what sounds like Hebrew, and the formations become more athletic and callisthenic, interrupted by plodding bent-knee leg lifts, and with backs to the audience, heads bobble in nods to the sound of bellows pumping. From their downstage tableau the dancers scatter randomly, and fractionalize again as the sound of a mosquito’s buzz intensifies. A dancer’s midriff undulates to the bandwidth of the mosquito’s expanding and contracting vibration, and two of the company’s most athletic dancers, Bobbi Smith and Shamel Pitts dance a sharp-edged duet. Men nearly skid onto the stage with hips thrust forward, and a jazz-like set of combinations follow. Chanting morphs into the sound of ratcheting and then an air hose, a veritable sound machine under construction. Are we in the middle of William Forsythe? I’d venture that there has been a little shameless pilfering: Dancers respond with off-balance thrusts or lifts, to loud clanking crashes of metal. A manufactured language, a kind of African dialect with echoes of Spanish, and then counting in another invented tongue, and then the Roman alphabet camouflaged by a polyglot of related sounds, takes us into the home stretch until the dancers find their tableau, and the audience goes gaga.
Toba Singer, author of “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), was Senior Program Director of the Art and Music Center of the San Francisco Public Library and its dance selector until her retirement in 2010. Raised in The Bronx, she graduated from New York City’s School of Performing Arts with a major in Drama, the University of Massachusetts with a BA in History; and the University of Maryland with an MLS. Since high school, Singer has been actively engaged in a broad range of pro-labor, social, and political campaigns. She has lived, worked, organized and written in Baltimore, Boston, The Bronx, Cambridge, Charleston, West Virginia, Jersey City, Richmond, Virginia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., working in steel mills, chemical refineries, garment shops and as an airlines worker; also editing, teaching and as an office worker. Singer has contributed articles to the “Charleston Gazette,” “San Francisco Chronicle,” “Dance Magazine,” “Dance Europe,” “City Paper,” “Provincetown Advocate,” “Voice of Dance,” CriticalDance.com, “InDance,” and “Dance Source Houston.”
Singer returned to the studio to study ballet after a 25-year absence, and in 2001, was invited to become a founding member of the board of Robert Moses’ KIN dance company. Singer studied ballet with Svetlana Afanasieva, Nina Anderson, Perry Brunson, Richard Gibson, Zory Karah, Celine Keller, Charles McGraw, Francoise Martinet, Augusta Moore, E. Virginia Williams, and Kahz Zmuda; and Modern Dance with Cora Cahan, Jane Dudley, Nancy Lang, Donald McKayle, Gertrude Shurr, and Zenaide Trigg. Her son James Gotesky dances with Houston Ballet. Singer lives in Oakland, California, with her husband Jim Gotesky.