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    Going down?

    Noˇmie Lafrance ushers the audience down a staircase and into a filmic world populated by beautiful women doing things with the banister in her site-specific work, "Descent."


    Noˇmie Lafrance's beautiful "Descent" happens in stairwell B of the City Court Building Clock Tower. The audience, instructed to stand close together and led by a secret tour guide, shuffles into the stairwell, wraps single-file around the banister between the 12th and 13th floors and looks down. Immediately one is struck by the possibility of the space, the kaleidoscopic effect of peering down twelve floors. Sanford White's admirable banister secretly enlivens the center of a building now given over to drabness and function, marred by security barriers. The stairwell is a perfect demonstration the relationship of sight, size and distance. Each progressive level seems to be enclosed within the last, and at least from the very top, it is endless enough to donate a sense of mild vertigo. It was this sight that inspired Lafrance to create "Descent." Her sense of possibility in terms of a space's filmic qualities is clearly sharp (after the show she announced her next production, "Noir," which will take place in a parking lot, the audience seated behind the wheels of parked cars). The idea of beautiful girls in a dizzying or hard-boiled situation.

    Company: Sens Production.
    Choreography by: Noˇmie Lafrance.
    Dancers: Einy Am, Jennifer Carlson, Jessica Dieterle, Erika Hansen, Ori Leninski, Ayelen Liberona, Eliza Littrell, Cary McWilliam, Rosario Ordonez Fuentes, Sara Robledo, Aya Shibahara, Tori Sparks, Emma Stein, Rieko Yamanaka.
    Music by: Brook Williams.
    Costumes by: Noˇmie Lafrance.
    Lighting Design by Timothy Coffey

    Related links: Official site
    NYC Court Building Clock Tower
    108 Leonard St. (Btw. Broadway and Lafayette)
    Oct. 16 - Nov. 23, 2003

    Action is deployed at multiple stories. First we look down to see twelve levels of women performing the same actions- breathy, fast drapings, tight spins- over the banister and in the small theater of action visible to us before the landings cut off our view. Emergence and disappearance plays a major role, and the natural frame of the landings, their distance, provides Lafrance with the stage to create something not unlike an enchanted bunch of nymphs. What is moving at the edge of your vision?

    Structured episodically, with the audience descending the staircase by a floor or so in the interim between parts, "Descent" honors the impetus of the image. Lafrance creates a series of worlds, related in their movement vocabularies, differentiated by costume and sound elements. Each world is a world of women. Women in aprons hang sheets across laundry lines drawn through the space, in kind of an adolescent male dream/flashback of the eroticism of washing day. Women in panties and white, oversized men's button-up shirts crawl onto the banisters, drape themselves, come in and out of view coyly. Women wash their hair, leaning over the banister while water is dripped from the top level, trickling down to each successive head, splashing the audience some.

    The magic of the performance is predicated on the establishment of a filmic distance simultaneous with the live performance.  

    Beyond the eroticism of the very pert bodies deployed throughout the staircase, Lafrance's actual movement vocabulary is what I would call 'contemporary pretty,' investigating dynamics and exactitude within bounds of feel and a certain kind of beauty. It is not square, but nothing is awkward, nothing lumbers, nothing clunks. Ever. Watching the piece and trying to move my viewer's eye from the the context of the stairwell to an imagined studio, trying to see the movement from straight on as it were, I was struck by how the new context, and Lafrance's significant skills of craft, made interesting what is otherwise a tired and limited vocabulary. Seen from above and below, new qualities of the movement were allowed to surface. The spatial design in particular — limbs radiating out from a central column — was heightened.

    The viewing distance is essential to the affect of the piece. When, near the end, we see a dancer right in front of us (in aviator apparel, curling around a rope), the work loses its quality of reverie, becomes more vulnerable. The material doesn't seem made to be seen face to face like this, and is the weaker episode of the evening. The magic of the performance is predicated on the establishment of a filmic distance simultaneous with the live performance.

    The exciting and significant thing about "Descent" is the extent to which is is truly site-specific. It couldn't happen in another context, it's not just a re-situated dance. Site-specific work has of course an ancient lineage (think about the boat and horse dramas performed at Versailles in lakes specially dug for the show), but it doesn't seem to have a strong hold on the dance community right now. Or rather, work has become specific to the odd little spaces we can find (and afford) to do it in. As the world, at least of independent choreographers, becomes by necessity increasingly DIY (which is to say, opportunity to gain access to the Pro spaces is sparse and over-competed for), it is exciting to see such a bold idea of venue. And though the audience was probably largely made up of members of the dance community, this event was truly a dance show that could play to any viewer. In making sense of a space that we all can make sense of, it left the practicioner-specific world of contemporary stage dance. In the end, I think it was this element that I appreciated the most about "Descent," that it was a public art project for the actual public, giving social life to a medium that is often known only to itself.

    DECEMBER 1, 2003

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