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Barney Yates


Dylan Baker and Tommy Seibold in "Bang." Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

West End Theatre, 263 West 86th Street
October 3-6, 2019
Program A: Keely Garfield
Program B: Beyond the Bang Group
Reviewed by Barney Yates October 5, 2019

Soaking WET went out with a bang October 3 in its final program at West End Theatre. David Parker and Jeffrey Kazin, the producers who started the series in 2003, will be taking up new positions as dance programmers at The Flea Theater. Their two-part program, which I attended all in one evening, offered "An Outline for the Invisible Project" by Keely Garfield (Program A) at 7:00 PM followed by a collection of works from current and former Bang Group artists (Program B) at 8:30.

I have to say that David Parker stole the night for himself with "Bang," the first dance of Program B. The most finished, precise, athletic and conceptually successful piece of the whole evening, it is the one dance that stands out in my memory. Originally made for Parker and Kazin, it was (the program says) subsequently performed by Kazin and Nic Petry. Winner of a string of awards, it launched the Bang Group company and so Parker named the troupe for it.

This time, it was danced for the first time by Dylan Baker and Tommy Seibold, but you wouldn't know it was their debuts in these roles, so precise and winning was their performance. Taking stage in navy suits and red ties, they slipped around on the stage, engaging in really fast rhythms of slapping the floor and clapping, rolled over each other and engaged in pranks. They kissed each other's hands and bare feet, pulled each other up by the ass, and built up to such "ouch" moments as dropping each other's heads on the floor. I will admit, the head banging made me nervous, as did the elbow-banging that came after they slipped out of their jackets and engaged in some forceful kissing.

I couldn't help wondering if this shouldn't have been programmed as the final performance of the night, to send the audience home on a high. Maybe the reasoning was that Seibold was to appear in the same program in "Then Again," and putting the two pieces at opposite ends of the program would give him time to rest up.

Anyway, let's work our way through the balance of the two programs.

Program A was Keely Garfield's "an outline for The Invisible Project," performed by Garfield, Paul Hamilton, Molly Lieber and Doug LeCours. It begins with a woman in a sash that says "Work in Progress." An interview is played on a laptop about what an artist is. Questions are posed like "How does an artist make a living?" We get various answers from each person interviewed. We laugh at the kookie familiarity of the questions, like "Are artists visible or invisible?" Three people enter and move with shoulder rotations to marching music. The movements perhaps say "one step at a time" in answer to the question, "how do you make art?" We are regaled by Roy Orbison music, which I admit I am partial to, but the cut is generally "It's Over" and it's played repeatedly (so it isn't really ever over). The whole thing, I note to myself, seems like jab at postmodernism. Or of postmodernism. We also get Orbison in Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer."

The dancers drop into floor poses, we get a duet to Sinatra singing "New York, New York," and there are slow squats with arms akimbo. My notes tell me I don't get what the title means by "invisible" (unless it's a reference to the question of being visible or invisible) and the dancers' poker faces don't give anything away. There are shoulder movements, flapping arms and slapping thighs, long struts with contorted arm movements, circular motions. It ain't formal dance. The guys hook ankles and form an arch through which we see a woman in pink. Roy Orbison restarts; a man and woman engage in a duet on the floor with fast, complex movements. She struts with her hands placed as if in pockets. I give up trying to understand and just enjoy the movements. We get Chubby Checker's "Let's Twist Again" and the movement looks improvised. Finally, we get "Western Town" and there is a gunslinger pantomime for the men. Its all fun but a little long.

The dance sequences, basically, recycle. There is a false ending after one of the "New York, New York" sequences. The men drag on a sign that says "applause." They have been fucking with my mind. In gobo lighting, dancers stand with bare bottoms. It ends with the men in jackets, the woman in pink now sporting a red flower lei. My notes say, "delightful!"

This piece was commissioned by NYU Skirball and will premiere there in Spring 2021.

The second dance in Program B was "Stand Or Be Stood," choreographed and danced by Chelsea Ainsworth and Jessica Smith. One of them leaned against the other, then fell, with quick repetitions. It led to them moving all around the stage in wild partnering. My notes say, "thrilling." Ultimately, they played that they could not get up. In the last moment, one stands on the other and they fell together. I could see this dance as a metaphor of someone being another's support.

"XXXX," choreographed and danced by Amber Sloan, is a piece about self-accusations. Sloan, in a gold lamé dress, jogs in place and then lands flat against the wall. (She has "hit the wall.") She has audience members read self-indictments that a maturing female dancer might inflict on herself and she reacts to these. When she dances, her dress catches the light beautifully.

The sound stood out in the final two pieces. "Almost," choreographed by Jason Collins, Lindsay Harwell and Ingrid Kapteyn (a performance collective known as HEWMAN), was a solo from an upcoming full-evening work and aims to question what it's like to see oneself in performance. Ms. Kapteyn manipulated her own body sounds like a Disney soundtrack. The score also overshadows my memory of "Then Again," choreographed and danced by Louise Benkelman and Tommy Seibold, which opens with her in a red dress and him in a red shirt and black pants. They dance over percussion, then over silence in which you can hear end-of-record noises. It was most memorable for the part that was danced to "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" by Jerome Kern, played by Harpo Marx on his eponymous instrument, whose pure beauty overshadowed the dance.

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