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October 19, 2019

Cora Dance’s Prey
by Carrie Stern (, published online 12-12-2008
By Carrie Stern

Cora Dance’s November (7-16) premiere of Shannon Hummel’s site-specific version of Prey celebrated both the near completion of Brooklyn Arts Exchange’s (BAX) Park Slope expansion, and the second elaboration of Hummel’s new evening-length work.

Beginning Prey around the time BAX—Hummel’s long-time artistic home—launched a major renovation that spread the center over two floors, Hummel always planned to set a version in the revamped space’s nooks and crannies, studios and theaters. Prey begins in the building’s entry.

The audience, in three groups, each with a leader and a knotted scarf “rope” to guide them in the dark, gather in an orange glow. An older woman I come to call “mother,” 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; “mother” paces in a dim-lit windowed corner. What is not seen—the sound of dancers footsteps like mice scurrying overhead in the silence, screams and cries just beyond a door— creates a rich texture that ties together the sections of Richard Einhorn’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 “found” 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 window—that alone-in-an-empty-apartment sensation—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 audience—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.

In contrast to the more traditionally staged sections, such as one in BAX’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 work’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 “mother” enters the roof. Gathering Bartnik to her she tenderly dresses her in her own bits of rags and fur, passing them on.


© Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2008 All materials posted on are protected by United States copyright law. Just a reminder, though -- It’s not considered polite to paste the entire story on your blog. Most blogs post a summary or the first paragraph,( 40 words) then post a link to the rest of the story. That helps increase click-throughs for everyone, and minimizes copyright issues. So please keep posting, but not the entire article. arturc at




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