Dance Review: Redefining Bling

The dancers in Yanira Castro’s company, a canary torsi, studied with Catherine Turocy’s Baroque Dance Company to learn historically correct period movements.

Court/Garden by Yanira Castro and a canary torsi. At the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA, April 8 and 9.

A scene from "Court/" at the ICA. Photo: Maria Baranova.

A scene from “Court/Garden” at the ICA. Photo: Maria Baranova.

By Marcia B. Siegel

Yanira Castro says the idea for Court/Garden came from the court of France’s King Louis XIV, who’s known, among other things, for starting the first ballet academy. Everyone in the court took part in dance occasions, which were in effect celebrations to honor the Sun King. Castro wanted to democratize the performance event with her piece.

The dancers in Castro’s company, a canary torsi, studied with Catherine Turocy’s Baroque Dance Company to learn historically correct period movements. Surrounding references for Court/Garden include culture critic Walter Benjamin and dance scholar Mark Franko, who’s written a whole book about the monarchy and Baroque dance. Then, ICA program director David Henry in his pre-performance speech Friday night alluded to personages in the current election. I didn’t know how to put all this discourse together because the performance was a spectacle in itself.

Before we entered the theater, we got our picture taken. Inside, we found a seat and watched the videos of the rest of the audience coming in. The long string of head shots was accompanied by an irritating tape loop of a woman’s voice announcing: “YOU ARE THE COURT . . SOME OF YOU ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN OTHERS . . . SOME ARE MORE BEAUTIFUL . . .” and inviting the audience to make its own choice whether to resist this “hierarchy” or not. A tuneless synthesizer droned on througout this process. (Music was by Stephan Moore)

Finally, two people in white (Martita Abril and Tony Carlson, called Cupids) started moving the video screen away from the theater’s windowed back wall, to reveal Boston harbor, a spectacle at night. Two surrogate monarchs who might have been civilians were seated downstage center with their backs to the rest of the audience.

When the screens were rearranged to make a narrow corridor, characters arrived, dressed from head to toe in body suits with gold and silver designs all over their heads and bodies. (Costumes were by Miodrag Guberinic) They slowly advanced from the far end of the corridor to the feet of the pseudo-monarchs, sometimes bowing before them. The first character retreated and was succeeded by two more. Eventually, there were six dancers in different variations of the costume.

They walked toward the audience and away, with hints of Baroque dance in their curling wrists and arms, their occasional display of a stretched leg. The movement patterns got progressively more complicated with each new entry of gilded characters. Hops were introduced, and lightly stamping steps. When all six were on the scene, they joined together in a line, with their upturned forearms linked. They kept their bodies upright and still all the time, as if they were wearing corsets. Finally, they began dashing in and out of the screens, which had been set up as wings (environment and lighting by Kathy Couch), and their pathways were like the curving floor patterns notated by the Baroque dance master Raoul Feuillet.

Something about the one-footed stamping and the head-covering masks reminded me of Paul Taylor, whose anti-classical figures were similarly shrouded in Robert Rauschenberg’s costumes for Three Epitaphs. Taylor also borrowed from the Baroque in Piece Period and other choreographies.

As the six gilded figures were running in arcs and neatly avoiding each other, the Cupids changed the screens again, fanning them out to make a big V, leading to the upstage center. One of the gilded figures seated itself there and the others slowly and carefully draped and wrapped it in paper from large rolls. This task took quite a while, but when they were done and stepped away from the central figure, the sight was astonishing. A gorgeous deity in white was seated there. The dancers and helpers posed around it, turning in admiration. The god spoke in a little girl’s voice: “I HAVE COME . . . TO BRING FORM . . . AND COLOR . . . TO OBJECTS.”

A cloud made of crumpled paper dropped from above to conclude the first act.

A scene from "Court/Garden" at the ICA. Photo: Maria Baranova.

A scene from “Court/Garden” at the ICA. Photo: Maria Baranova.

After that, stagehands dressed in black began clearing away the screens and placing white folding chairs in two rows at each side of the stage, with white pillows on the floor in front of them. The audience was ordered out of its seats and down onto the stage. By the time I got down there, all the chairs were taken so I sat on a pillow. The view wasn’t good, but there wasn’t a lot to see. The stage manager crew had wheeled in two puppet booths and a lot of equipment on tables.

In the booth at one end, three people were visible from the waist up. They conducted an extended mock conversation as patrons at a performance, commenting cattily on their fellow audience members and the events on a stage. At the other end of the space, a video screen revealed dancers — it could have been some of the figures in the first act — in a backstage dressing room, undressing and munching on fruit during an intermission.

The booths served as miniature proscenium theaters, each one framing its occupants, and its viewers, in a different state of unreality: the three outsize gossips crammed together and immobilized in their tiny booth, and the naked, primping performers exposed to a couple of hundred voyeurs in theirs.

For Act III, titled Garden, all the furniture and sets were removed and the audience was left to its own devices. The performers strode through the room, sometimes humming or stamping to drum up our participation. They began to plant little activities among us. A woman in a voluminous paper skirt wandered through self-consicously. Some kind of couch or bed was being constructed out of white pillows. One of the Cupids was teaching dance steps to recruits in an adjacent hallway.

When I left, the crowd was still milling about, looking for something to happen. Downstairs in the main lobby, the ICA had been hosting a fingernail painting salon earlier in the evening, but that performance had closed down.

Internationally known writer, lecturer, and teacher Marcia B. Siegel covered dance for 16 years at The Boston Phoenix. She is a contributing editor for The Hudson Review. The fourth collection of Siegel’s reviews and essays, Mirrors and Scrims—The Life and Afterlife of Ballet, won the 2010 Selma Jeanne Cohen prize from the American Society for Aesthetics. Her other books include studies of Twyla Tharp, Doris Humphrey, and American choreography. From 1983 to 1996, Siegel was a member of the resident faculty of the Department of Performance Studies, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

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