Movement, sound join together in ‘Echo’
It wasn’t until 40 minutes into creator-director Sara Shelton Mann’s “Echo / Riding the Rapids,” seen at its Thursday, Oct. 11, opening at OD CT heater, that the dancers made any sustained physical contact with each other. Even then there was something stately and reserved about Jesse Zaritt and Anya Cloud’s duet, which consisted largely of them crossing and intersecting their stiffly straightened arms like sticks. Such seeming restraint was not what an audience might expect from Mann, the noted 74-year-old choreographer with deep roots in contact improvisation. But this hourlong piece, which was billed as a world premiere but sometimes pointedly played as a process-oriented work in progress, bristled with congruences and linkages of various blunt, beguiling and sometimes baffling kinds. An early one came when Mann herself, equipped with a microphone, popped out of her aisle seat in the audience to confront Zaritt onstage. “That looks like it hurts,” she said, as his fiercely writhing body hammered the floor. Then, in a droll charade, she asked if he was a walk-on and wanted a job. “Would you dance for us?” Mann purred.
He did, his movements now smoothed and stretched, arms lofted, fingers fluttering, his long legs hoisted out in resplendent lateral kicks. Zaritt remained a transfixingly
watchable dancer throughout, at one point seeming to nearly levitate from atop a chair he had fetched from the piles of equipment scattered around the perimeter of ODC’s brickwalled space.
A lot of the evening’s connective tissue was supplied by composer and performer Pamela Z, positioned stage left behind a welter of laptops and other devices. In an aural language that ranged from sung high notes to electronically assisted huffing and tongue touches that coalesced into gently pattering rain, she was in steady if at times mysterious communion with the dancers.
That dialogue of movement and sound turned gracefully explicit when Pamela Z left her perch, proceeded onstage and launched into a vivid, wordless aria. Her diva-like presence shifted gears as she approached the stationary Cloud and lured her into a slowly dawning movement with a lullaby. It was an echo, one of several enactments to the work’s title, of Mann releasing Zaritt into his own kinder, gentler psychic space at the outset.
Mann, whose long resume includes founding the multidisciplinary troupe Contraband in 1985, found other ways to merge one mode of expression with another. A catalog of poetic collective nouns (an exaltation of larks, a parliament of owls) stirred Cloud to pluck up two handfuls of feathers and inch her way precariously across a stage diagonal. She was like a bird clinging to a wire, only to become rooted and weighted at the end, her body sinuously rippling in place.
Other uses of language weren’t so effective. Seemingly random phrases, looped and layered through the sound system, began to seem mannered and affected. A photographer, who might have deserved a curtain call, kept inserting himself into the frame. Accidents seemed intentional, and intention accidental.
Whenever an idea or notion had exhausted itself, there was always something new coming along to supplant it. The two principal dancers, along with their blackclad echoes Abby Crain and Jesse Hewit, charged, spun and strolled about the space, filling it with feathers, smashed flowers, paper, electrical cords, sticks, clouds of powdery white dust. (Amy Trachtenberg is the production’s chaos designer, with calibrated lighting by Grisel Torres.) By the end of the night, the ODC stage looked like one of those gloriously littered stage pictures that the late German choreographer Pina Bausch devised. A contact-heavy scene reminiscent of a wrestling match broke out late in the going. Earlier passages were as slow and deliberate as butoh. Some of this had to be taken — or left — on faith.
Mann was back onstage at the end, sitting down for another fauxspontaneous chat with Zaritt. They talked about love and control and the way art, like artists and yesterday, disappears. And then, in a gradual decrescendo of light and sound, they did just that.
Anya Cloud in “Echo / Riding the Rapids” at ODC Theater.
Jesse Zaritt in Sara Shelton Mann’s “Echo / Riding the Rapids” at ODC Theater.