The first hint of whimsy arrives in the form of the riot of old fashioned table lamps, complete with shades, hung upside down from the ceiling and replacing the normal lighting in the main dance space of the second floor loft at 100 Grand St. in Manhattan. Chairs for the audience have been ranged along the windowed wall overlooking the eponymous street, and at a ¾ angle in the loft’s southeastern corner. Facing this latter quadrant after the lights dim and then resume their warm glow Peter Chamberlin begins “19/20,” a 6 minute solo that sets the tone for an engaging evening of dance exploration.
Peter Chamberlin in "19/20"
photos by Hope Davis
Chamberlin’s work features the focused miniaturized quality of etudes. But these studies exhibit technical and compositional acumen of a budding master. In “19/20” he appears to lay a repeating series of 19 patterns for the upper body: head, torso, shoulders, arms, hands , over 20 variations for the legs and particularly the feet. The shifting transitions from one combination to the next steadily increase in tempo to match that of the quickening staccato thump underpinning Sam Crawford’s chordal accompanying recorded score.
“Untitled” pairs the radiant and articulate Shayla-Vie Jenkins with the coolly articulate Hsiao–Jou Tang in patterns that go from head and shoulders to feet in poses and walks shot through with swift silent and limber side falls and rises. The dancers provide such a visual and kinetic feast in the robust suppleness of their realization of Chamberlin’s choreography that even the simple crisp change of a walking pattern from vertical to horizontal orientation across the stage registers with the force of revelation. Like the dancemaker, these women make maximum use of their fabulous feet.
Having watched with interest Nora Petroliunas’ work as a principal in the artistic directorship of the collective pocket engine, I stood unsurprised at intermission as the audience received square pieces of scrap paper from her dancers along with instructions for rearranging itself. Pocket engine’s piece(s) had included roles for the audience and innovative use of the space.
Once the chairs had been replaced in a U-shaped, ¾ in the round configuration; the curved end facing 100 Grand’s mirrored wall, the question of a vantage point became an intriguing one. I determined that a standing spot next to the full-sized litter basket at the bottom of the right hand arm of the U allowed an excellent view of the space including the entire audience with and without the use of the mirrors. It also took in the full span of the windows above Grand St., one of which promised to figure in some way in what would come.
Almost directly in front of me, at the edge of the main performance area, stood a decorative cast iron coat and hat stand with a yellow cotton rain coat hanging from one its curved prongs. In the far right corner, similarly situated, a four foot tall artificial Christmas tree festooned with ½ pint lavender milk cartons awaited its cameo. Three large cereal boxes occupied the opposite corner. Origami cranes strung in spiral climbed the floor stand of an empty hanging bird cage by the one open window.
(l to r) Peter Chamberlin (obscured), Tess Igarta, Sarah Bodley, Hsiao–Jou Tang
The six dancers, 4 in white dresses or skirts, 2 in white pants and shirts stand in the space facing in several directions. First 3, and then 2 more fall into motion as Saul Simon MacWilliams' recorded score brings the opus “goose” to life. Throughout the first musical segment, Lesley Garrison stands her ground while Sarah Bodley, Tess Igarta, Tang, Julia Burrer, and Chamberlin fly through a series of backwards, forwards and side runs and falls, turns, and twists in patterns that remind me of choreographic palindromes.
The piece develops in trios, duets and solos in a poetry of earnest playfulness. Petroliunas proves as masterly in presenting each of her dancers as individual movers as she does in compositional craft. She also displays a penchant for whimsical distraction and displacement. After Burrer and Igarta have engaged in a solo-duet-solo sequence the rangy Burrer dons the rain coat and begins pulling a seemingly endless supply of stainless steel tea spoons out of various pockets. These she hands to individual members of the audience.
We’ve come to a pause. Tang and Bodley ask us to take out our scrap paper and lead us in an attempt to create origami frogs. The others collect them in the cereal boxes.
Chamberlin and Tang dance a charming Fred and Ginger style duet, complete with soft shoe. The milk cartons come off the Christmas tree to be distributed to the audience members lining the windows. Inside each, they find a note instructing them to go to the fire escape window and look down. Several climb out onto the balcony. One later informs me that she watched four dancers perform in sneakers on the opposite sidewalk of Grand Street.
The dancing progresses with a steady and formal attention to its compositional development. Figures I recall from earlier work come and go in lines of dancers, designs for soloists, duets, trios, ensembles. Bodley, Burrer and Tang mount the fire escape and “release” the origami cranes from their string. Garrison pulls individual members of the audience out to shadow the dancers original positions onstage. Each time she finds herself hurled aside and displaced by another dancer. When all the doppelgangers have taken their place, she can rest at last, secure in her own. The "goose" comes home.
(l to r) Julia Burrer, Tess Igarta, Hsiao–Jou Tang, Lesley Garrison (in silhouette)
Petroliunas has achieved a remarkable balance between challenge and accessibility, formal rigor and serious play, and a sense of intimacy within an experience of community. With “goose” she has also announced her arrival in Manhattan as a choreographer of daring and whimsical imaginative gifts.