Georgia Clark

An Ocean of Longing

Whitehall Ferry Terminal
4 South Street New York, NY 10004.
October 26-30, 2009; Monday- Friday: 1pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, 3pm, 3:30pm and 4:30pm.
Free. More information:
By Georgia Clark.

"Halt!" finds beauty in the mundane and the chaotic, at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal. Photo by Megan Green.

A crush of people in somber winter coats are pushing towards the sliding doors that are set to open and release them onto Staten Island Ferry so that they can escape Manhattan. There is a sense of expectation as the doors open and the crowd streams through to the ferry, while a scrolling electronic clock blinks the time above the doors in ominous red. And then as quickly as the doors have opened, they begin to glide shut. People run across the terminal to get to the departing ferry. At the last possible moment, a woman in blue jeans and a non-descript grey shirt runs at the closing doors but just misses. She puts her hands up against the glass and begins to arch backwards. "Halt!" has begun. There is something despairing about this figure, who has missed the boat, and it seems that "Halt!"'s choreographer, Czechoslovakia-born Pavel Zuštiak, has tapped into a whole ocean of longing just beyond the glass.

Wearing white earphones, with mp3 players scoring the performance, viewers of "Halt!" can roam freely or watch from a sound bar – with a listening choice of five different 30 minute compositions by contemporary composers, with sound design by Zuštiak. Of course, the audience are not only those who are in on this free public performance but the unwitting public are also viewers and players in this aching dance piece. Beginning with this solitary woman at the glass doors, dancing to music that must only exist inside her head, gradually the audience notices a seated couple in similar bland jeans and grayish shirt combo, moving in a slightly robotic fashion, leaning into each other. The three dancers are soon involved in a trio of longing that moves simply around the massive airy space of the ferry terminal – with dancers disappearing into the crowd at moments. What is most fascinating is not just the simplicity and deftness of the dancers (Gina Bashour, Lindsey Dietz Marchant and Jeff Kent Jacobs) but the public who pretend not to notice and then finally give in to the strangeness of the silently moving bodies around them. “I was curious to go out where ordinary people are and allow chance be part of the experience," muses Pavel Zuštiak, "Since the sound is not heard many people become part of the performance without realizing it, which creates tension and juxtaposition. I believe there is still a lot of beauty around us if we pause and look around."

"Halt" at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal. Photo by Megan Green.

And the beauty is everywhere - in the soaring terminal, people sit and wait, idly stroking cell phones and i-pods, a pigeon swoops overhead, sun glitters off the water and two women and a man move across the space, their limbs entangled. In one stunning moment, a female dancer looks from side to side, seemingly torn between the other two dancers – as her head and body moves faster and faster, her hair comes loose and is whipped across her face in a frenzy. She is grinning and the moment is chaotic and beautiful and silly. Afterwards as she disappears towards the departing crush of the next ferry, a large tough guy in a baseball sweater and cap joins in, rescuing her hair elastic from the floor and following her across the room yelling, "Hey, dancing lady, hey." It's these kinds of moments, where the public blend into the performance that make "Halt!" so compelling and each performance, so completely unique. By the time the guy gets across the terminal, she has already disappeared into the crowd.

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