Armitage Gone! Dance
Connoisseurs of Chaos
The Joyce Theater
Jan 22-27, 2008
Frances Chiaverini and Matthew Branham. Photo: Julieta Cervantes
Over the years, Karole Armitage has held a mirror to cultural trends. She danced with Cunningham in the late 70s, and in the 80s her multi-genre spectacles came to personify rebellion, excess, and the confluence of performing and visual arts. After a long spell in Italy at MaggioDanza, she is back in New York. Her final ballet in a trilogy feels like how contemporary ballet – dance — might very much like to be remembered down the road – richly detailed, rigorous, finely danced, and simple at heart.
In Connoisseurs of Chaos, the dancers cluster and join to form a six-headed organism, a community. Duets and trios alternate with ensemble sections over the work’s 65-minute length. Armitage has honed a ballet-rooted vocabulary rendered flawlessly by dancers in socks. She retains some of the ritual and prowess moves – posés, split arabesques, impressively canted attitudes – but has disregarded the starchiness of ballet. Transitions within sections are remarkably non-existent, or silkened to the point of vanishing. Energy coursing through an arm is punctuated with a soft, unaffected flourish, and is always finished, never tossed away. There is ample partnering, some bold – as when a woman ‘cartwheels’ to clutch and hang from, upside down, the pelvis of her partner. Others are spatially resonant, a plastic parallel to musical harmony. It often evokes the way Cunningham’s choreography can summon a relationship through his dancers’ proximity and duration. Armitage uses gesture enough to transcend abstraction and describe various states of human relationships.
All of the dancers – Mei-Hua Wang, William Isaac, Megumi Eda, Matthew Branham, Leonides Arpon, and particularly Frances Chiaverini – bring with them unique traits that serve to highlight one or another aspect of Armitage’s choreography, not to mention superb technique. The dance is set to a knotty score by Morton Feldman (Patterns in a Chromatic Field), which at the Joyce was played live on cello and piano. While it is impressive how much nuance and sound these two instruments produce, the music is largely quiet and intensely thoughtful. David Salle created the intermittent video projections, bold images of body parts put through a swirl filter, or slightly unsettling shots of wintry landscapes or fluttering window curtains. But the movement holds its own, shifting speeds within a fairly narrow dynamic range, but stunning in its vibrancy.