Friday, April 29, 2011

Some Nudity Required

Pat Graney Company's Faith comes to REDCAT

PHOTO: Tim Summers

Joseph Mailander

Two generations ago, the city was in robust economic health and people went to Dodger games. Now it's forty years later, the city is at the brink, the Dodgers are in virtual receivership, and we're going to revivals of provocative contemporary postfeminist dance.

Excepting a stay-in-your lanes crisscrossing of the stage with red exercise balls, Pat Graney's Faith, now at REDCAT through Sunday, is slow and often static, so static that it sometimes flirts with ceasing to be dance at all. The first segment, in fact, is drawn from the chiaroscuro and posing of fabled Caravaggio paintings. It's a good idea if a little on the Pageant of the Masters side of re-enactment; what lends drama most of all, as in the paintings, is the lighting, the mix of light and shadow on the chiseled bodies and limbs of the dancers. (I didn't know to look for paintings before taking the work in--I think I saw Calling of Matthew and The Entombment, and I'm sure there were many others--but hell, I thought I saw Raft of the Medusa too, even without the cue to look for paintings--I even wrote this down, in fact).

There is also much historical feminist, post-feminist &c. narrative running through Faith, and the all-women ensemble, some of whom were in the original production in 1991, have the panache to pull it off. Women are far too complex to have had but one liberation, they have had at least four waves of it even by 1991; some have involved shoes, some nudity, and some on drawing a distinct line between essentialist and separatist lesbianism. All of this is present in Faith; we see one woman limping around in too-high heels, we see a tedious segment involving said red shoes for all, we see nude bodies celebrating themselves and each other in isolation and in aggregate, we hear the dancers moving to the New Age thumping of a concluding dona nobis pacem.

As the troupes' bodies are on display for much of the final third of the piece, they invite comment, and comment I promise. You wouldn't call the dancers lithe; their dancer body type is powerful, sturdy, callipygous, refreshing, Greek. But I was equally enchanted by the crushed red and purple velvet minis of the earlier segments.

These are indeed hard times, and there was no media kit. Instead, only the tip sheet was available describing the dancers: "..., short with short dark brown hair." This is truly an audacious postfeminist moment in dance, when we always baffled scribes are obliged to identify the dancers by the physical attributes on the tip sheet, and have no other scoop other than the audience's program notes on either dancers or performance. But for what it's worth, Deb Rhodes-King, who steals many scenes, even from occasionally featured soloists, does so with her variously taught and supple limbs as well as her arresting, occasionally pained, even tormented facial expressions, and is certainly worthy of more in the take-home material.

It is probably trite to call Faith "entertaining"--the production is too high-minded to be that. But the word does come to mind; you leave the tedium of the static in the theater and take away the sculpted moments, the post-feminist theorizing, and wondering if our interactions, or our city or even our lives, can be a little better after all.

Pat Graney Company's Faith at REDCAT tonight and Saturday at 8:30, and Sunday at 3:00; tickets from $26-$16, better deals for CalArts folks.

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