Review: A Mumbling Tribute to Dancers’ Misalignment | Modern Society of USA

Review: A Mumbling Tribute to Dancers’ Misalignment

Review: A Mumbling Tribute to Dancers’ Misalignment

In Kathy Westwater’s “Rambler, Worlds Worlds A Part,” the dancers do indeed ramble around the stage, in between lounging in comfy armchairs. When they are moving, they slump, sink, loll, crumple softly and maybe thrash a little. Then they curl up on the armchairs, close their eyes and appear to fall asleep.

Ms. Westwater calls her method “the disorganized body.” The idea, it seems, is to disrupt conventional alignments, creating misalignments that affect balance. The dancers, tuned in to their own sensations, follow their weight. In theory, this could be excitingly unpredictable, even subversive. In “Rambler,” which had its debut at New York Live Arts on Thursday, I found it diffuse to the point of dullness.

The risk of audience members joining the dancers in dozing would be high, were it not for the music. Elegantly flanking the stage, Joseph Kubera and Adam Tendler each sits at a grand piano, playing an unidentified score by Julius Eastman. The recent rediscovery of Eastman’s work has spread to choreographers, and that’s a good trend. Minimal in harmony — long patches of worrying a single note in multiple registers — it is maximal in drama, gathering great storms of sound.

The contrast between this extreme intensity and the dance’s listlessness is likely intentional, the music screaming emotions that the dance mumbles. The problem is that Mr. Tendler joyfully rocking out at his keyboard is much more engaging than almost anything happening center stage.

One exception is a solo for Thomas F. DeFrantz. He nearly trips as he runs, as if exhausted by trying to escape. When he goes into his misalignment, tilting and twisting slowly, he looks like he’s grooving, perhaps in pleasure. Yet this pleasure is haunted by a ghost of pain, some internal disturbance that surfaces before long.

I strained to detect such complexity elsewhere. The six other dancers, a diverse group that includes Ms. Westwater, have varying levels of articulation and thrust. Mainly, they move independently, apart, coming and going as if by whim, so it registers as a change when they pair off or line up or synchronize briefly. They touch one another tangentially, someone’s head resting on someone’s shoulder for a moment; or two people embrace, at once collapsing onto each other and holding each other up.

The interest of all this, formal and human, is continually undermined by Ms. Westwater’s method. The willful disorganization drains energy like a self-sabotaging leak. It’s telling that the climax of the piece, if it has one, involves the dancers drifting off one by one, to crowd around the pianos and assist in an accumulation of hammered notes.

That’s beautiful (as is the subtle visual design by Seung Jae Lee and lighting by Roderick Murray), but it concedes the greater power of the music. And that imbalance, the work’s ultimate misalignment, continues into a coda in which M. Lamar takes over at the piano, offering his own brilliant and ghostly echo of Eastman’s sound while the dancers return to what they did before or nod off in their chairs. Spatially, music is peripheral in “Rambler.” In almost every other way, it’s the central draw.

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