Sunday, May 23, 2010

Love & Dance: Nora Petroliunas / The Pharmacy Project present Bricks & Honey at 100 Grand, May 7 & 8

below: (from top to bottom): Hsaio-Jou Tang, Amber Morgan, Tess Igarta, Sarah Rose Bodley, Meredith-Lyn Olivieri. photo by Mistral Hay
The audience has just been moved. Literally. The handsome couple, who have perched so exquisitely atop the coffee table placed against the mirror at the west wall of 100 Grand, find themselves momentarily separated when the musical chairs-like redistribution of spectators-in-the-round calls for us to claim new seats. But across the gap now between them, he beckons her to an adjoining empty chair. Their union restored, an open seat now offers itself next to me. Soon, Bill Young, the loft’s proprietor sidles into it.

As the action onstage resumes, he leans over and whispers conspiratorially, “I just love her work.”

And I have to now admit that I do as well.

And what’s not to love? Nora Petroliunas has always, in the two years that I’ve been watching her art develop, been more than generous with her audience. She has already established a knack for serving up quirky and surprising sensual feasts that fully exploit the imaginative possibilities of the architecture, the furniture, and the dancers that she selects to frame her visions. With Bricks & Honey, her very first one-woman show, she has emerged as a first rate dance maker as well.

In this she owes a great deal to the performers with whom she has long been collaborating. In this case they include Sarah Rose Bodley, Tess Igarta, Amber Morgan, Meredith-Lyn Olivieri, Hsaio-Jou Tang. Only Morgan is new to me. I have never seen the others dance with such consummate ease, grace and unabashed sensual beauty. The quality of their five-fold collective realization of the creator’s compositional craft proves enough even to touch the heart of a dance curmudgeon such as me.Hsaio-Jou Tang attached to Amber Morgan
photo by Paula Lobo

The weight of touch; the gravity of desire play key roles in the troupe’s investigation of space. In repeated patterns of partnering, we see relationships rendered as leg irons as, one after another, individual dancers struggle to walk with a prone partner grasping one ankle. First Bodley and later Igarta execute electrifying and virtuosic solos, each of which includes an extended series of jumps taking off from and landing on the performer’s shins as her legs remain folded beneath her.

These two represent only the first among equals in distributing the simple gifts that Petroliunas flings around. Bodley has often featured in the choreographer’s canon, and her two solos here seem to build on and extend her role as muse-in-chief. (That’s mis-chief to you, buddy). Igarta, on the other hand, who also plays the loft’s piano to accompany Bodley’s first solo, breaks through as a master of the kind of weighted lyricism that has begun to emerge as a Petroliunas leitmotif.

left: Tess Igarta
photo by Paula Lobo

Olivieri, subsequently, charms and intrigues in an introspective passage in which she builds a ziggurat of furniture using as foundation one of the loft’s sturdy kitchen tables. Atop of this she sits to imbibe a wistful glass of wine that she pours from one of the 32 bottles that have been lined up like footlights along one edge of the space. Soon the other four perform a kind of barnacle ballet along the edges of the supporting table.

The wine bottles, almost all partially filled with water, along with several similarly ablutionary clear glass jars, have been handed out to arriving members of the audience and later collected by the dancers just before the big move. In case you might have misapprehended that Petroliunas would be leaving you alone to sit back in anonymous idiot peace during her show, greeter Sarah Oppenheim has also handed you a book of matches at the door with “the pharmacy project” scrawled in black ink across its white cover. Souvenirs, as usual, to be had, and used, at the spectacle.Meredith-Lyn Olivieri prepares her ziggurat
photo by Mistral Hay

The further deployment of these elements, as well as those of such inveterate Petroliunas creative touches as table lamps, other furniture, a galvanized washtub and water buckets, and musical compositions ranging from those of contemporary collaborators Ed Donohue (donny hue and the colors) and Saul Simon Macwilliams to recording artists Doris Troy (Just One Look) and Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts (Angel of the Morning) I’ll leave for later. I encourage the reader to see this piece, should it ever be revived, and wouldn’t want to give away the plot.

But I have a personal confession. I found myself somewhat reluctant to commit to attending this production, enamored as I have been of the creator’s past efforts. Like an infatuated lover, I felt afraid of the possibility of finding myself let down, and equally skittish of the idea of making anyone my “critic’s darling.”

I needn’t have worried. Here I sit on a soft and lovely Spring evening, gazing across Bill Young’s lovely, haphazardly cluttered, workaday loft through a veil of gorgeous dancing and a compelling lack of drama at other members of this audience and the choreographer herself, hard at work on the sound score controlled by the Macbook on her lap. And I find myself absorbed into her dream; taken by the possibilities the poet Auden proposes in his Lullaby:

Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's sensual ecstasy.

The microcosms Petroliunas shapes play their parts almost completely in poetic terms, many footed and raw. There exist “certain evenings when the heart relaxes.” Bricks & Honey provides plenty of suggestive space in which one can be persuaded to try again. When an artist can open her heart, and mine, to the possibilities of new life even in the face of inevitable loss, and do it in the wordless wonder of dance, I consider myself glad to have made the trip and lucky to be a witness.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Counting Cards at Grandma's: Nan Swid and Donald Kaufman Recent Work at Gallery 9E

I leaned down to speak to a charming young girl in a maroon dress staring candidly up at Nan Swid’s Combination Wall 2 (2009) at Gallery 9E, 508 West 26th St. in Chelsea, Thursday evening.

“What do you see?” I asked confidentially, hoping for a pithy, surprising, funny or illuminating quote.

The light of the golden hour transfigured her blonde curls as she turned away from the window and the roughly 24 square foot wall-mounted construction, fashioned from panel, disassembled book paper, and nails, variously coated by encaustic wax that stood before us. She leveled her clear and steady gaze at me.

Nan Swid’s Combination Wall 2 (2009) at Gallery 9E
all photos by Rodin Banica

“Grandma’s art work.”

Well, that threw me for a loop.

“How often do you see it?” I queried, regaining my friendly poise.

She looked puzzled. I changed tactics.

“How old are you?”


“You’ve been seeing it your whole life, then.”

right: Nan Swid's Day Window (2010)

Duh, her blankness seemed to say as she flipped her hair turning away towards the window. I might have been the only one counting.

I did a lot of counting at the show of recent work that Swid shared with Donald Kaufman at 9E. I counted the disassembled books in Swid’s wall relief’s, framed assemblages building from materials similar to those of the the wall mounts, to foil-like assemblages of dark to brightly colored and clear cellophanes, leading finally to ones encrusted with gold leaf over index pages from manila legal files: N – O, or Z – X for instance.

left: Donald Kaufman's Graph 2010

In Kaufman’s room, around an open L-shaped corner, I counted cards. His 19 gauche on paper works present jarring as well as subtle juxtapositions of color. Said to have been inspired by architectural color samples, they depict variegated rectangle shaped single color fields in repeated flat patterns. Within each image, these rectangular color fields keep to a more or less uniform size and their arrangement suggests to the mind a set of overlapping cards upon a table as seen from above. The “table top” consists of a single, often strong, color that serves as background or field framing the arrangement of the card-like smaller rectangles.

My notes for these pieces read something like: “12 on olive” for Canyon (2010), or “7 on NECO” for Graph (2010) the latter color recalling in its gouache texture, the kind of plum brown I remember from NECO valentine Sweethearts. Across from Swid’s relatively expansive pieces, often amplified by their simple but elegant frames, Kauffman’s unframed jazz riffs on Albers, which, all in portrait orientation, range in size from only 70 to 432 square inches rectangular, look diminutive.

The design and even the fashion pedigree of both artists can easily be discerned in the way they handle their materials, while the counterpoint of Kaufman’s dry understatement with Swid’s sometimes playful sometimes sultry sensual and textural interplay proves effectively complementary. The show continues through Sunday, May 9.

Above: Donald Kaufman's room at Gallery 9E, 508 West 26th St, New York