“Should I look among the living,
Should I look among the dead,
If I am searching for you, like Lazarus did?”
The West coast premiere of, “Like Lazarus Did” included a live performance by the San Francisco Girls Chorus (34 singers under the direction of Valerie Sainte-Agathe,) and a pre recorded original electro-acoustic score by Son Lux. This score is based on spiritual music and texts from early American slave songs. These oddly compelling and previously unpublished songs are the key inspiration for this collaboration with its title coming directly from one of the lyrics. Son Lux has done a masterful job of modernizing these soulful cries to god and gut wrenching “hallelujahs!” At times he adds meditative drones from mid Eastern music, and in other sections gives them a mystical techno beat, or a haunting folksong twang. His score and singing are soulful and varied with the Girls Chorus singing in and out of it from the balcony.
To this lush poignant arrangement, Petronio’s company danced for the hour-long performance. They did so beneath Janine Antoni’s self-conscious installation, referred to as a “living set” because she is suspended high above center stage in a red metal helicopter or rescue stretcher. Hanging above her supine body are cast limbs, rib cages, miscellaneous bones and body parts hung delicatessen style. The inanimate installation offers very little to the dancers or to the overall design of the stage, instead it comes across more like a college art project. As a metaphor it is flat and as a visual, uninteresting. When “Like Lazarus Did” premiered in New York, the installation was suspended over the audience, which would naturally create more dramatic tension and a more satisfying relationship to the dancers and stage, while also allowing it to be seen three dimensionally. Hanging above the audience makes more visual sense, creating the impression of a body transiting through the after-worlds or caught in limbo, rather than hanging like a framed one-dimensional sculpture center stage. Clearly, some of its impact was lost in the Novellus Theater installment.
This leaves the rest of the metaphors and performance on the choreography, which is uneven and scattered—not unlike the dismembered body parts of Antoni’s sculpture. The choreography often fills up space more than creates life within it, feeling improvisational as if dancers are doing their own thing. Petronio also places himself in an out of the work in a comedic fashion, starting before the performance lying down corpse-like on stage barefoot–as if spread out for a funeral. He returns later coming on stage still in his dress clothes as one of the dancers, briefly moving other dancers about.
Out of this plotless dream-dance with its emotional songs, loose ties to slavery and corpse imagery, flows sensual moments of bodies collapsing into one another’s arms as if the life has just run out of them. Solo performances by Josh D. Green and Nicolas Sciscione are both sensual and lyrical and come up during the quieter and more nuanced moments of this production. Sciscione ends the work with a solo, undulating and contorting into himself as if life is starting to rise deep within, animating him into birth.
Costume designers, H. Petal garments hang effortlessly on the dancers like burial swaddling cloth, accenting the muscular legs of the strong and accomplished performers.