Sunday, March 20, 2011

Package Less - A Review

Package Less was a conceptualized dance performance based on Self Help, Inc., choreographed by Martha Williams of The Movement Movement, an emerging New York-based company established in 2005.

Dance unites all types and kinds of patrons – young and old, black, white, uptown Manhattan, downtown artists, and with a few tourists on holiday thrown into the mix. New York is a cultural destination after all.

I first noticed the sparsely decorated stage at The Joyce in SoHo, and wondered what might be on the bill as I pored over the program and looked around at the expectant faces in the intimate theater. There was a sense of anticipation as I scanned downstage right, at a TV and an antique chair. Multi-hued sofas occupied center stage, and upstage left a single chair pulled my attention away from three hand-painted curtains with leaves at the rear of the stage that brought to mind a forest. A collective quiet crept into the theater as a New York nightlife soundtrack hummed just outside the front door.

A dimly lit stage revealed a solo performer seated in a chair as haunting piano music slowly rose and filled the theater. A delicate hand appeared from one of the sofas, as if beckoning the audience to participate in the upcoming performance. I thought of Waiting for Godot as the actor sat with his back to the audience and adjusted what I might have come to expect from having read the playbill.

The succeeding images and sounds of an arguing couple and the actor pushing his chair backwards competed for my attention. Where should I focus? If I follow the couple, will I miss something that the actor in the vest does as he narrates the unfolding tale?

Industrial music signaled the next scene change as yet another body materialized from behind the sofa. The dancers were raw and physical, seemingly at ease with their subject matter, each flick of the wrist, gyrating hip, and extension cementing the story of human nature and surviving in a hostile world.

“Get off of me!” rang from the sofa.

Is this a tale of a fractured, discontented or dysfunctional family? Are we peering beyond the fourth wall of an unhappy man and his mistress? What am I to make of the male dancer dressing on stage? What does it mean in the realm of self-help?

I didn’t know what to make of the slightly inaudible narration that seemed disconnected from the intended story the dancers were enacting. Where should my frame reference be as the sofas are moved about the stage? Am I in suburbia watching an adulterous affair and its painful consequences take place? Does the wife know and willingly accept?

Acoustic/electric guitar music transported the narrator to the corner TV, however the narration wasn’t loud enough, and perhaps would’ve been better if delivered via the speakers with the music lowered.

I searched for understanding in the hour-long performance that was meant to explore a woman’s sexuality and identity. Perhaps what appeared to be an affair was just that, and the choreography was spot on. 

The domesticity of the sofas, chair and TV were to have located the audience in a sacred place and time, that of a home where all is revealed, without the crutch of masks many of us rely on to make it through the day.

I wanted to be drawn into this performance, if nothing more than to experience experimental dance and theater in one. I applaud dancers who give themselves over to choreography without question, especially when furniture is used as performance accompaniments. Art is subjective. Ethnic dance usually tells a story, be it West African dancers that defy gravity, Asian or East Indian footwork and hands that are alternately fast and slow.

Package Less is the choreographer’s interpretation of a nonfiction book, several ideologies, and thoughts which, to this viewer, didn’t coalesce.

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