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California Literary Review

Russell Maliphant’s Afterlight Folds Time Into Space at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Thomasin Gülgeç, Gemma Nixon in Russell Maliphant’s AfterLight


Russell Maliphant’s Afterlight Folds Time Into Space at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

After a piano intro, a spot opens up a space on the dark stage and in it is the dancer, Thomasin Gülgeç. He is dressed in a purple top. He is revolving, and then begins a series of stretches that segue into a port de bras as he inclines toward the blush of white light.

Thomasin Gülgeç, Gemma Nixon in Russell Maliphant’s AfterLight

Thomasin Gülgeç and Gemma Nixon in Russell Maliphant’s AfterLight.
Photographer: Dana Fouras

After a piano intro, a spot opens up a space on the dark stage and in it is the dancer, Thomasin Gülgeç. He is dressed in a purple top. He is revolving, and then begins a series of stretches that segue into a port de bras as he inclines toward the blush of white light. The only lit surfaces on his body are the sinewy ones. He drops to the floor and the spot widens there, still centered on him. With minimal upper body movement, he tucks himself into the folds of the music, Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes. Gülgeç is pliant where the notes go hard. Now he is bare-chested in grey pants and wearing a head wrap, a transparent tribute by the British-born Canadian choreographer Russell Maliphant to Nijinsky—minus the madness. Never abandoning his wide stance Gülgeç initiates a series of sweeping circles that brings him from floor level to standing, but no higher. A breath sends him spiraling to a second spot, the place from which he vaults over one arm and then tumbles into an upright position. He pauses and spindles around himself, his arms like gentle flanges of a self-invented self-mechanism. The remaining costume elements disappear as this human motion sensor transforms himself.

The light is contrived and distracting in a subtractive way, but its impact is all consuming, even hypnotic. One is drawn into his process as if a stakeholder, and not just a Saturday night spectator. Then it is over, leaving us a little breathless.

A lit pattern is projected onto the scrim. It resolves into a dappled something from nature. Amidst the dapple, we distinguish two women dancers. They are Silvina Cortés and Gemma Nixon. Now the light suggests cloud cover, and out of it the women emerge doing floor rolls from side to side, then stretches in tandem. The women are unfortunately costumed in what were once referred to as Baby Doll nighties, obscuring the shape and line of their bodies making them look theatrically infantilized. It would be acceptable if the costumes contributed to the dream-like quality of the work, but there is something prosaically Wendy-in-Peter Pan-musical-ish about the nightgowns that actually detracts from the otherwise nebulae-like sensibility. Besides, the audience comes to dance events to see sculpted bodies move. The nighties diminish the experience by half.

Arms circle above heads from side to side in a rhythm where the counts are one tock behind the metronome-like beats of the score. Gülgeç comes downstage to stand between Cortés and Nixon. He rolls off stage right as they move upstage left. They roll from floor to half standing. Gülgeç loop-jumps over himself. The women rise and male/female places are exchanged again. He revolves, and then they, like him, become cylinders. All three come together, fanning and folding into a dense tripartite profile. The screened set becomes an orchard where clouds have delineated themselves into fruit trees.

The time we have spent here seems boundless, as if it too has been spindled and then stretched, never attaining its limit. There is the sense of a continuum of light, music and movement, a tone poem with no pause for equivocation. Just as we begin to feel at home in this un-gated community, Gülgeç withdraws, leaving the women to circle to a vanishing point as the again-dappled pattern fades into nothingness.

The next segment opens to music from a sitar or dulcimer. The lone Gülgeç is lit with a faint spot. He walks downstage to a Chinese-scale melody. The women join him. Cloud projections are caught on his face for an instant. Now Gülgeç, bare-chested, is with just one woman. They explore an imaginary horizon that follows the line of the proscenium. When they bring their arms together, they are half moons along that horizontal.

Each body lights out to probe the atmosphere, then reunites with its other to repeat the patterns of curves and spirals. There are the only two in this universe. They are each other’s ultimate complements, but just as they are fully absorbed by their shape making, the other woman enters. After a slow approach leading with shoulders and slow turns, the two women face off in mirror-image profile, and then both turn their heads to the audience. There is an insistent dinging sound, costumes flutter, and the lighting goes more oblique. The faces fade as nighties flounce in a frippy girl game of “I can do this I can do that.” The insistent note finds a richer voice, the beneficiary of more ardent orchestration. Spidery globes of light frame the dancers, and the note fades into a single jingle.

The next segment opens with a flute solo. Gülgeç is hardly visible. He stays low and reaches across space, crab like. The clouds are back, and begin to move as the women leave. Gülgeç does dervish-like jumping turns, and ends up wrestling with himself as the pace accelerates. A woman joins him as the music come up syncopated, the flute leading. We see them more clearly as he pulls her to standing and they revolve separately. Light patterns on the floor bypass them like rapids as they struggle to find a place mid-stream. Water and light showcase the couple. The other woman joins them, and though the light is still, the rhythms are more effluent, reliable without being predictable. Gülgeç’s new solo strives for mastery over the ecosystem. His spirals go faster and tighter until they are a dance of self-infringement. Then he dips from a small jump into a low bow, like a ladle scooping a thick elixir. The light reveals only the sinews, as the audience, in a reluctant act of collective obedience, awakens from its timeless trance state.

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,", "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.

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