It’s hard to imagine a better setting for Ms. Gill’s bold and haunting “Catacomb” than the Greek Revival rotunda of Federal Hall. This 2016 piece is extremely spare, strange and slow-moving, almost a memory play. Under the rotunda’s oculus, it felt like a 3-D Antonioni film: the unease, the longueurs, the serious rewards.
Deconstructing Graham and Ailey
Ms. Yerushalmy’s “Paramodernities #2 and #3,” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, are installments of a proposed series in which she collaborates with scholars on deconstructions of canonical modern dance works.
In “#2,” as Ms. Yerushalmy and Taryn Griggs perform bits of Martha Graham’s “Night Journey,” the art historian Carol Ockman shares her thoughts on Graham. Presenting Graham as a forerunner to feminist theorists diminishes her, though the lecture-demonstration enlivens when the dancers assault the affable docent.
For “#3,” about Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations,” the chief collaborator is Tommy DeFrantz, a dance scholar who’s also a charismatic performer. His lecture is theory-laden, but the questions he asks — about blackness, modernity, sexuality, freedom — are provocative, and his skeptical, sarcastic delivery gathers the urgency of a sermon.
Meaning Without Attachment
“Paramodernities” is all about adding explanatory context. The audacity of “The Set Up” is to leave it out, at least from the performances. The walls of a room on Governors Island are covered with information about this long-gestating project, for which Mr. Cardona and Ms. Lacey have roamed the world, seeking instruction from seven masters of traditional forms (classical Burmese, Balinese Topeng and so on). Each of these cram sessions has resulted in a work. But only now, over last weekend and the coming one, are they being presented en masse in marathon form.
And though these works draw upon complex traditions rarely seen in New York, they offer no in-performance explication. Highly distinctive local dancers borrow choreography and gestures whose meanings they may not understand, and on top of this, more confusion is piled: knowing jokes and live music (by Jonathan Bepler) that disorient and distract, often amusingly.
The sardonic voice in the Cambodia-inspired “Ghost” seems to be the project’s guiding spirit, reveling in an appetite for lost traditions “resounding in meaning without attachment,” whose “potential is not ruined by being realized.”
Performances by some of the masters (Heni Winahyuningsih, from Java, and next weekend, Proeung Chhieng, from Cambodia, and the unbelievable kutiyattam performer Kapila Venu) help audience members distinguish between the difficult refinement of the originals and some tiresome indulgence in the riffs. But the worth of “The Set Up” doesn’t depend on questions of authenticity; it’s in the moments of spellbinding beauty (concentrated in Mr. Cardona and the radiant, pregnant Molly Lieber) that would not have lived except through this complicated arrangement and River to River.
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