Le Grand spectacle de l’effort et de l’artifice

Christy Funsch and Company

Written by:
Joanna G. Harris
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Contemporary Dance: Past and Present

Christy Funsch and her remarkable group of dancers, musicians, actors, and lighting designers have produced a brilliant work in “Le Grand
Spectacle…” She has brought together an ensemble that responds to one another with deep insight and instinctive response through the process of careful design and choice. Within the context of this work is Daniel Nagrin’s “Path” (1965). “Path” brings another dimension to the performance; Funsch’s meditation on space, task and focus.

The structure of the work entails a duet for Funsch and Nol Simonse, an extensive series of episodes for four dancers, Funsch’s performance of
“Path,” a ‘work-within-the-work’ of “Path, “ and a short coda of the duet.
Upstage right throughout the evening, two actors sit and watch, first the dancers and then each other. In fact observing and seeing the audience is a dimension of all the performers’ task. We see and are seen. The audience is part of the show. Aren’t we, haven’t we always been there? Now we are.
Therefore all of performers, technicians, audience and us are the ‘spectacle’.

The duet between Funsch and Simonse demonstrates several dimensions of ‘effort,’ as she, a small person in stature, balances him, a tall, long person.
Simonse even elongates himself by stretching when he is on her back, making the effort more extended. This feat is interspersed with lithe patterns of running, leaping and playful contact after which the two inspect the audience. The duet is repeated three times, concluding as they drag themselves offstage, demonstrating another enormous effort.

The quartet of dancers, listed as “collaborative performers, are Arletta Anderson, Chinchin Hsu, Courtney Moreno and Yvette Niccolls extend the special patterns and ‘efforts’ by a series of duets, solos and group activities that fill the ODC space with great effectiveness. This section is titled “ARTIFCE, ” perhaps because it is artfully composed.

Unlike many dancers today who use arm gestures to compensate balance and enlist momentum, these dancers use detailed hand movements that make movement more personal and imply meaning. In additions, these dancers move in unison as well as on their own, embrace, balance, confront and execute all manner of leg and torso activities. A truly remarkable ensemble.

Funsch’s restaging of Nagrin’s ”Path,” (which I had the privilege of seeing in the original), involves holding a large board almost three times her size. She carries it across the space on along diagonal path, repeating the same steps over and over: walk, cross behind, plié, rest in a relentless rhythm.
The performance brings a central stillness and meditative dimension into a very complex work.

She joins the ensemble for AfterPath and then exits for Part II “EFFORT.”
Three of the dancers literally ‘let down their hair,’ giving Courtney Moreno, who does not have long hair, an opportunity to solo. All the dancers however contributed fully to this section. Arletta literally turns off the lights, blows a kiss to the house and exits. Simonse and Funsch return for a quick finale. The several events are all remarkable for the ensemble involved, the richness of the movement material, the choices made and the overall sense of commitment and skill in execution.

Participating in their own way are the brilliant musicians of Ctrl-Z: Ryan Page, Daniel Steffey and Nick Wang. They created a ‘narrative’ of modules that literally made the house vibrate. All greatly to be commended was Delayne Medoff who lit the dancers with a series of colors and patterns that enhanced and delighted seeing them. Funsch chose or designed costumes that came right out of today’s ‘style’ sections: many patterned shirts and pants that looked ‘off-the-street’ but compelling to see.

Joanna G. Harris

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