I quite liked the first half of Mark Haim’s X2 at On the Boards. I’m much less keen on the second piece.
The first part, 1, breaks up the stage with an irregular arrangement of continually undulating tree trunks and an oddly placed couple of chairs downstage left. Far in the back of the stage sits a man in a chair that slides incrementally from one side of the stage to the other over the course of 45 minutes. Louis Andriessen’s music, De Tijd (Time), to which the piece is set, is too all about slow changes beneath a surface that does not seem to change at all. The whole setup creates a feeling of a privileged nostalgia: time remembered, time as something that seems to stop upon remembrance but never actually stops. At various moments the man in the chair bursts forth from upstage and runs toward the audience–as far as he can run without hitting a tree, that is. The rest of the space for the six main dancers is fragmented just as memory itself is fragmented, except for what I take to be a waiting room of some sort in the extreme downstage left. It is an inventive use of space and time all linked by Louis Andriessen’s music, which is inspired as much by the Confessions of St. Augustine (which form its text) as by Morton Feldman.
Initially, I thought 2 was a brilliant use of movement, exploring variations of difference within a rigid, conformist order. And it is. The color scheme that defines the movement paths, the use of syncopation within the dance, the varying directionality of vertical and horizontal movement on the stage–it is at first amusing, then eerie, then remote, and then… Everything is going along just fine until very near the end, when Mr. Haim decides to include text. I think it’s an egregious mistake. In the context of the piece, but even in an absolute and unrelated manner, the text is trite and does its best to reduce the meaning of the entire piece to an equal level of triteness. Fortunately the text fails to undo thirty minutes of brilliant choreography but it does make me wonder why, when the argument has already been made perfectly through the language of dance, would Mr. Haim even bother with something that reads like a sophomoric mishmash of Samuel Beckett and Alan Watts. A parody of it might read:
It is I. No it isn’t I. No it isn’t I
because me is I is he is she and I is we
and we is a plural and plurals all decay
like the rotten we be instant Bodhi soup.
This is a bit unkind, of course, but only a bit. Text has a way of imposing a literalness on a piece that need not be any more literal than it already is, and poorly chosen text even more so. It created for me a feeling that for the choreographer there was no other way out other than The Final Word. Artists always have The Final Word. After all, they decide when the piece ends. But The Final Word is not something an artist of Mr. Haim’s caliber ever needs to use. When a piece invites exploration, one should let the audience explore. The imposition of text in this case and many cases I’ve seen in dance does not expand the world of the dance but rather reduces it. It turns La Giaconda into L.H.O.O.Q, which is fine if parody is the goal but I am unconvinced that it is.
Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net