By Carrie Stern
Cora Danceâ€™s November (7-16)
premiere of Shannon Hummelâ€™s site-specific version of Prey celebrated both the near completion of Brooklyn Arts Exchangeâ€™s (BAX) Park Slope
expansion, and the second elaboration of Hummelâ€™s new evening-length work.
Beginning Prey around the time BAXâ€”Hummelâ€™s long-time artistic homeâ€”launched a major renovation that spread the center over two floors, Hummel always planned to set a
version in the revamped spaceâ€™s nooks and crannies, studios and theaters.
Prey begins in the buildingâ€™s entry.
The audience, in three groups, each with a leader and a knotted scarf â€śropeâ€ť to guide them in the dark, gather in an
orange glow. An older woman I come to call â€śmother,â€ť dressed in rags with snatches of rich fabrics designed by Naoko Nagata, slowly opens the exterior door. Kelly Bartnik, as if pursued, bursts in and disappears up the stairs. The door slams.
Holding our rope like nursery children, we audience audience members are led up the stairs, down the hall. Dancers quietly join the line here-and-there,
disappearing as quietly as they appear. Down the corridor others move just barely in sight; â€śmotherâ€ť paces in a dim-lit windowed corner. What is not seenâ€”the sound of dancers footsteps like mice scurrying overhead in the
silence, screams and cries just beyond a doorâ€” creates a rich texture that ties together the sections of Richard Einhornâ€™s evocative score, Voices of Light.
In a new classroom, the strongest
section of the work, the audience is steered into lines gathered around three sides. Ambient or â€śfoundâ€ť light has been a component of the work since
the beginning. Eva Pinney builds this
imagery; her dim lighting thrown from outside the windows evokes a street lamp shining in the windowâ€”that alone-in-an-empty-apartment sensationâ€”creating a space both poignant and eerie. In the center, Bartnik, an
intense, riveting performer, pants, wails, screams like a banshee. Donna Costello, Nicki Marshall, Cynthia Thompson, replace her. Entering bent, this finally tuned trio clutch, turn, and contract like creatures in pain. Woven throughout, a chorus of dancers runs
in, out, around, slamming doors, heightening the energy. Squatting and crawling around the edge of the room, they nearly touch the audienceâ€”so close to them do they dance. Silently manipulated by leaders and dancers who gesture and surround the audience, the lines are gently pushed into place to watch the weird rite. Ushered into a final circle around the performers, the audience joins the dance twisting to duck under, step over the ropes.
contrast to the more traditionally staged sections, such as one in BAXâ€™s theater that allowed the audiences to take a break from standing, being so close makes you a witness, part-of, not
separated-from, as audiences usually are.
Prey is not flawless. Both as a
whole and in specific sections, it
acks a dynamic center, something that
keeps the intense bits and pieces from
flying out of focus. And despite a
fascinating later segment where,
primate-like the dancers signal non-
aggression by performing a series of grooming movements pulling up their tops to reveal patches of skin, I tired
of the intense pushing, stamping,
contracting, tortured movement
vocabulary. Both, however, might be helped by some tough editing.
On the roof, the workâ€™s last stop, Kelly Bartnik reprises her deep, gut-wrenching scream-solo (though I would have liked to see an expanded language at this
juncture) and takes off running in the crisp air. For a terrifying, gorgeous
moment, she stops. As she hovers in
the air like a character from a Chinese martial arts film silhouetted against the distant twinkling lights of Manhattan, you wonder if she might, like a dark angel, try to fly. The door opens, the light promises warmth as â€śmotherâ€ť
enters the roof. Gathering Bartnik to her she tenderly dresses her in her own bits of rags and fur, passing them on.
Â© Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2008
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