Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In the Land of Carlisle

Katie Workum Dance Theatre premiered Carlisle at Dance New Amsterdam (DNA) in New York City, October 10. Katie Workum describes this fantastical place:
Carlisle is a place where women warp and swarm, goats trot on ancient mountain switchbacks, ghosts shimmer quietly and wolves tear away at fences. Limbs and ideas intermingle with our animal instincts, our sadness and our gladness. The inhabitants live in a both abstract and familiar world of impulses, camaraderie and antlers that make up all our everyday lives.
(Program Note by Katie Workum)
The arena is DNA where the raw space seems stripped down to the equipment of theatre, lights in abundance, a mirrored wall to the side, which for some performances must serve as "offstage". But nothing in Carlisle seems offstage, even when its inhabitants roam in and out of doors on the left that might be caves or homes or openings to another world. Structural columns define the space like limbless trees on a landscape that ultimately rests in the imagination.

A quartet of dancers, Samantha Allen, Ivy Baldwin, Kennis Hawkins and Hannah Heller, are creatures of Carlisle. Their movement is personal, primal, and poetic. Each seems distinctly defined but in flux, changing on a continuum that morphs from women to creatures and back again. Perhaps more importantly these women have voices and their language is choreographed as carefully as their bodies. Moreover, these voices sing spontaneously, almost as though the music emanates from the land of Carlisle like an atmospheric vapor or at times raucous and raw. Carlisle is strangely a land absent of men. Women form the full reality, and there are conflicts and issues among the four that emerge through gesture and utterances.

Then suddenly, on the side, a silent procession of Korean women glide across the floor at the right, their shimmering forms echoed in the mirror. They are curiously detached, in another world, beautiful, mysterious, transient, disappearing as quietly as they emerged. They form a serene ensemble (danced by Ahreum Chung, Jae Im Chung, Jee Yeon Jang, Ah Rong Kim, Eunkung Kim, Ji Yeun Lee, and Soo Hyun Park).

But in Carlisle, the panorama and struggles continue, oblivious to the gliding phantoms that linger on the outskirts of reality. The dichotomy is rich with possibilities, but the work cannot fully engage in the potential of choreographic ideas, musical awareness, and narrative ambiguity. There just isn't time.

At the end there is a fusion of the forces as though somehow the musical penetration has created an equilibrium where everything is resolved. There are brilliant uses of silence as a presence, electronics by Jenny Seastone Stern, and the rich tapestry of Katie Workum's imagination. We are coaxed into believing that the bizarre is routine, and that after all, in a Pirandellian twist, this is just a show.

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