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    2018-2019 reviews:


    Contact with the medium

    Antonietta Vicario's "touch.DEPRIVATION" hurls itself into the "what" of the physical.


    April 22 through 25, the Joyce SoHo was adorned with sensory media by Catherine Schurdack that created sound with touch: rough Astroturf whose scratchy whispers indicated the speed of movement across its surface and sheets of bubble wrap hanging on the wall whose explosions indicated the pressure and force of impact against it. Small knots of stuffed fabric hung overhead like question marks, never acknowledged, never addressed, the physical manifestation of the holes in my immediate understanding of Antonietta Vicario's "touch.DEPRIVATION."

    Choreography by: Antonietta Vicario in collaboration with the dancers.
    Dancers: Julie Alexander, Nathalie Dessner, Lyndsey Karr, Gretchen Pallo, Tamara Riewe, Antonietta Vicario, Molly Wilson.
    Music by: Ryan Smith.
    Set design by: Catherine Schurdack.
    Lighting design by: Brady Jarvis.
    Design Consultation: Heather Trautwein.
    Joyce SoHo
    155 Mercer (btw. Houston and Prince)
    April 22-25, 2004

    A consistent emphasis on the sound of movement tweaked my interest in the thought that the medium of the work (dancing) spoke louder than the message, and intentionally so. The audible score created by the dance — limbs slapping against the floor and thudding against walls, heavy breathing, and Vicario's mumbling of directions and cues to Lindsay Karr and Gretchen Pallo in a blind unison floor phrase of shifts and pauses — made me question the necessity of Ryan Smith's electronic sound score. The music emerged and receded in a densely layered hum that included whispers, bells, and abstract sounds. It seemed to adhere to some generally safe methods of illustration and reference of the events happening onstage: computer generated popping sounds accompanied Julie Alexander and Tamara Riewe's duet against the bubble wrapped wall, and the whispers coincided with the opening image of seven women walking around one another avoiding touch, but watching intently. The music rarely distracted from the movement, and it was easy to listen to, but on several levels I longed for more of a dialogue between Vicario's choreography and Smith's score.

    By exploring different forms, means, and effects of human touch, Vicario generated a wealth of movement material that ranged from tender to violent with all shades between. The movement vocabulary was often the end as well as the means; when the dancing was elaborate, challenging, or recognizably of a certain cannon of contemporary dance, it became a difficult through-medium for communication of another idea. Yet the group's intense delivery and Vicario's vigilant fullness of presence led me believe this was not a purely physical concept. While these gradients of touch seem an absolutely appropriate notion to explore through movement, and Vicario dutifully maintained the said concept as a through-line in the piece, eventually I got the sense that this topic of touch deprivation was mostly fuel for movement generation, and that something much heavier lay beneath. For me, this something was about identity.

      I got the sense that this topic of touch deprivation was mostly fuel for movement generation, and that something much heavier lay beneath.
    The all-female group performed in pink, green, or white pleated miniskirts with matching ribbed tank tops and bra straps exposed, most of them with pigtails, and in special moments, matching plastic heeled flip-flops. The dancers themselves maintained clarity of focus and stiff-browed sturdiness, but the visual message of the hair and costuming diluted their maturity and objectified them by association with SoHo boutique mannequins or Britney Spears wannabes. This version of femininity was not ignored, but it was also not dissected: when Vicario, Karr, and Pallo first entered in heels, they stiffly rolled out their rectangle of Astroturf like Vanna White, then once the heels came off and they lay face-down on the green, the attitude was dropped. I struggled to fit the heels and skirts into this world, because they somehow lacked the depth and sincerity of the performance. Non-sequitors not withstanding, there was a "more than meets the eye" sort of multiple-personality demonstrated in the extremes of each section, with Nathalie Dessner and Alexander's violent wrestling, Vicario's vulnerable solo, and the floating, reaching, spiraling unison phrases that sprawled into space to find no reciprocal touch.

    Within the prolific phrase material of "touch.DEPRIVATION" were moments from Vicario's past work with or for other dancemakers. While I am not interested here in a debate over the ethics of quotation, I am very interested in its meaning to the work: do we carry the implications of the source of the material into the new context? In acknowledging the post-modern de facto that there is nothing original, the choreographer's voice came through the collage of movement sources (let's not undermine that many were her own) in the way she chose to frame them.

    Within the phrase work that did not involve contact between dancers or with tactile set pieces, I saw a lot of reaching and throwing of limbs. With the performative intent that colored this movement, it translated for me into a theme of searching and a willingness to hurl oneself fully into anything. I believed that I was witnessing an effort to establish one's identity — as a woman, choreographer, and dancer — by what she wants to be, in a tour de force of honest trial and error. The bittersweet triumph, or a sudden shift towards self-assertion, strength, and adamant rejection of other's expectations, came at the end as the lights faded out on all seven women wailing on an imaginary victim. What were they swinging at? Who were they fighting, what for? Somehow it didn't matter so much as the act itself — the physicality of it, and how it empowered the performers. Throughout "touch.DEPRIVATION," the "about" of the work often fell away in favor of the "what", reminding me in a most dancerly and personal way of Marshall MacLuhan's theories by creating an audio/sensory/emotional space in which the medium dominated the message.

    MAY 5, 2004

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