Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lucy Guerin Inc. in "Corridor"

I am hooked on Lucy Guerin’s Corridor. It’s a slow burn; with the company at Bryn Mawr College where I curate the Performing Arts Series, I saw the show five times over the course of two days and will be sustained on it for months.

What is it that’s gotten so under my skin? The dancing is the best I can recall in ages. Like a family of singers with distinct voices but whose DNA makes their tones blend beautifully, most of the three men and three women trained at Australia’s Victorian College of the Arts, which reliably turns out great dancers. They are fleet, flexible, brazen movers who are neither blank nor overly emotive. I could watch them forever.

Corridor’s scenes sweep up and down the expanse of an eighty-foot swath of marley flooring, building a tone at once humorous and terrifying. The show emerges stealthily out of the two parallel rows of audience facing each other as seated dancers answer their cell phones and begin milling about and chatting, some shushed by audience members confused by this hazy beginning. What ensues is a slew of variations on responding to inputs and commands, with seemingly less and less ability to fulfill anything completely. At one point the malaise manifests in a “sickness” duet with actions of retching, flinching, and groaning woven rhythmically into a tour-de-force essay on all-too-familiar suffering.

Sections are handsomely crafted, with any piece of the whole having its own ebb and flow, twists and turns. The sickness duet sputters and restarts and ends, surprisingly, as a quintet with all, doggy-style, looking up to Byron Perry as he segues into a new solo. Still, the whole does not easily cohere, and is no easy-read. As the setting shifts completely in the piece’s last quarter to a dark and ominous world of lab coats and lights from a rolling octopus-like structure trained on intimate encounters, the sense of puzzling out the meaning of the overall picture feels adult– complex and not easily contained.

Mirrored panels onstage and moving light boxes shuttled behind the audience let dancing be seen behind layers of shiny, smoky obscuration. As dancers and panels move up and down the long, narrow playing space each audience member has moments of watching at extremely close range, and other times of seeing as though down a very long hallway, observing different elements stacked.

Guerin’s physical language has absorbed everything from the classical to the released to the studied gesture. The dancers can create flow and connection between their movements but astonish most with intricately spliced action: footwork moves to tiny hand gesture, to big flailing fall, to bounding leap. In the case of Perry, whose marathon solo is framed by checking himself out in the mirrors on either end of the space, this quick cutting reaches a virtuosic zenith.
His utterances are halfway mumbled, or shouted, his focus turns on a dime. He is the modern multi-tasker, the one navigating too many inputs, impulses and possibilities. Life marches on around him in the guise of four dancers shuttling back and forth with technique class skips and leaps, now backward, now arcing. Perry hurls himself through space, as though on a continuously shifting precipice, and the quick change dynamics and broken snippets of commentary make him seem slightly mad.

In fact, they all begin to seem half-mad, part of a world gone crazy. Is it their constricted space? The effort and speed of trying to keep up? The continual inputs from MP3 players, being told what to do by the wielder of the microphone or blaring speakers, the subliminal messaging – all that “stim”?

Corridor is unsettling, not least because it ends on an ambiguous note of violence, with the soundscape mounting into a whirling machine-driven storm. Finally it all cuts out; the plug is pulled. In Thomas Great Hall the vast, dark space where we are left reverberates with afterimages of distress, with no easy fix.

I felt surprisingly tender toward these people portraying contemporary malaise, trying their best, coupling elegantly, fervently or manically, sailing through space with fine-tuned precision or shuttling through phrases of rhythmic non-sequitors: pop, you’re here, oops, sliding off there, and wow what about this thing? Movement mirrors mind. Guerin’s got it nailed.

The love of dance is life-long and getting a fix like Corridor comes not so often. I treasure the intelligence, dedication and gifts that make such moments in the theater possible. The poor artist is rich indeed.