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      Jonah Bokaer as Saint Sebastian in Christopher Williams
      Photo by Yi-Chun Wu
      Jonah Bokaer as Saint Sebastian
    Saints, Saints, Saints

    Christopher Williams misses very little in The Golden Legend


    Try imagining what the choreographer wrote in his/her grant applications the next time you see a dance. The results for the same piece might be a wide as, "pondering the properties of light" and "how my cat makes me feel." Not so with the work of Christopher Williams. A fiendish dedication to a holistic vision is evident in the detail with which disparate elements hang together in The Golden Legend. The program notes have footnotes. Every puppet part is choreographed to the extent that it can be. Text and music is chosen with the location and life's work of the saint taken into consideration. Delicate maneuverings of low-tech special effects are perfected. The puppet ankles of a raven shift convincingly on the upturned soles of the feet of Julian Barnett's St. Vincent as he balances in a shoulder stand.

    Choreography by: Christopher Williams.
    Dancers: Julian Barnett, Reid Bartelme, Jonah Bokaer, Brian Brooks, Chris Elam, Chris M. Green, John Kelly, Aaron Mattocks, Luke Miller, David Neumann, David Parker, Paul Singh, Glen Rumsey, Rommel Salveron, Stuart Singer, Gus Solomons, Jr..
    Set design by: Tom Lee.
    Dance Theater Workshop
    May 14-16, 2009

    It is curious how the individuality of the dancers has room to breathe within such structure. Maybe that curious room is what rescues The Golden Legend from what could easily be the prison of it's own form.

    Tom Lee's set is visible upon entering the theater. Seventeen high backed chairs that forecast all to come line the white floor stage left and right. Their number is daunting. One must accept the form of serial portraiture to enter. And then the dance begins. After the solemn processional of painted flesh, exposed thighs and medieval looking ornaments enters through the audience, the stage clears and each saint enters, endures his particular torment, then takes his place in the chair of his crest and bears witness for the remainder of the Legend. Despite the predictability of it, each saint is so idiosyncratic that the next one is met with anticipation. If attention wanders for a moment in hour three, the gaze of all the saints that came before is there to anchor it again. We are all a part of the ritual of bearing witness to the gorgeous vulnerability of living imprisoned in breakable, combustible flesh that succumbs to its own weakness while striving to experience something graceful and permanent. (Is this what religion and art have in common?)

      Christopher Williams
      Photo by Yi-Chun Wu
    After all the expectation and ceremony, David Parker's Saint Thomas of Canterbury is thankfully light and contagiously cheerful though he has a sword through his head.

    He and Paul Singhs Saint Paul stand out in retrospect as less tortured than the others. Mr. Singh's animalistic St. Paul rarely if ever stands upright, taking off and landing easily from deep lunges. Isolated in the forest, he seems to have forgotten speech and tickles himself with raw grunts that cede to Louie Armstrong style humming. He empathizes with "first and second young Christian martyrs" Luke Gutgesll and Dusan Perovic, who escape their bondage in death. Mr. Gutgsell's hands are bound together behind his back throughout his desperate solo and Mr. Perovic is bound by sexual desire manifested by Rene Archibald. Their heart wrenching utterances are too pitiful to form words.

    John Kelly's Saint Anthony Abbot must compete with a chorus of demon puppets sporting oversized reproductive organs. They all have grotesquely expressive arms that wave about. There was recently a picture in the New York Times of the "Torment of Saint Anthony" possibly painted by the young Michelangelo with fantastic little demons grabbing his robes. This must be the same guy. (It's on display temporarily at the Met before it goes to Texas.)

    Jonah Bokaer's cool Saint Sebastian is thrown off his vertical axis by swearing archers but surprisingly continues after he is penetrated by their arrows. A turned in passé appears and is repeated throughout the night.

    Julian Barnett's Saint Vincent injects passion, flying in and out of the floor while looking to the audience with resignation.

    Glen Rumsey's Saint George engages in slow motion fight choreography with a lopsided lizard-dragon whose tail slaps the floor hypnotically.

    Rommel Salveron is a slinky Saint Pancras whose precise isolations serve the illusion that his body is controlled from without. The small two-person chorus of Keith Sabado and Nicky Paraiso are particularly integrated into the action during this chapter. Their chanting weaves intricately with the accompanying Anonymous 4 and their own limbs to support the young saint. In a moment of transformation, all three stand stuck together in relevé for what feels like an eternity before breathing in air for a coda.

    Chris Elam and Coco Karol are unidentifiably creaturish in Saint Christopher. They emerge from a giant man-eating monster when it is taken down by a chorus of scantily clad men. Ms. Karol may be standing in for baby Jesus as she is carried on Mr. Elam's shoulders but she is handled rather like a sack of potatoes. Later, his plaintive heavenward cries are, again, wonderfully unidentifiable and awkwardly authentic.

    Aaron Mattocks's confident Saint James the More dances to the music with clarity. He is supported by a comic chorus of chirping rocks that entomb his body.

    Rommel Salveron as Saint Pancras in Christopher Williams  
    Photo by Yi-Chun Wu  
    Rommel Salveron as Saint Pancras
    Saint Laurence as performed by Luke Miller finds all the momentum and spice possible in his Dionysian frolics through Mr. Williams' choreography before he gets sautéed by his chorus.

    Saint Giles is a red-faced, large-eared deer delicately performed by Reid Bartelme. He elicits a tenderness that is palpable in a drawn out hunting scene. Equally palpable is the fear of Stuart Singer's Saint Eustace after he is attacked viciously by Arturo Vidich and Brandin Steffensen.

    Saint Jerome is Chris M. Green clad in a red dress and hat. He stands out for being in no part animal nor physically exposed. He alone is in the dress of later centuries and his relatively colorless lighting provides a shadow as his only companion, until the lion enters. Saint Jerome's speeches from the Latin Vulgate Bible strain against his face but are muffled until finally they get pulled into language, then song. His transformation comes when he grabs his tongue, a source of enlightenment but also of pride. With language suspended, he pulls a thorn from the puppet lion's foot.

    Saint Francis of Assisi performed by Charley Scott enters carrying his home on his back and when he finds the right spot, emerges to praise God and be praised by the musicians. After teaching a chorus of willing birds, he continues on his path to enlightenment. Flawless attitude turns turn to the self-mortification of a nude figure trying to remove his limbs from the floor but unable to escape earth. The last visible image in lighting designer Joe Levasseur's dusk is red ribbons shimmering from the saint's stigmata.

    Gus Solomons, Jr. is hilarious along with Carlton Ward and Alberto Denis in Saint Dionysious the Aeropagite. You just have to see that one.

    David Neuman as St. Nicolas transforms from a baby to a man with a brown beard that changes to white to go with the Santa look. He gives a lecture on the properties of reality while three women whom he presumably saved from prostitution with his gifts of money faun over him. Storme Sundburg, Jennifer Lafferty and Abby Block were memorably present as the three women. (The position of women in this epic might be questionable if Ursula and the 11000 Virgins had not come first.)

    Brian Brooks as Saint Stephen is the only Saint without an animal companion or a choral support. Even with a halo of stones, he appeared to relish the slow, twisted, off center fouettés that were abundant in his solo.

    There is a Recessional after which the dancers exit the way they came. This time I smell them, and the halos seem a little less fake. These are old friends now, and we are just catching up since we last met at one of the twelve-minute max showcases that plague this city.

    Though the set, the lighting the costumes, the puppeteers, the multi-tasking chorus members, the live music and the miracle of all those freelance schedules converging is all fabulous, they are there to serve the story of the saints told through the choreography. Mr. Williams certainly took advantage of each dancer's strengths to bring to life these dramas that depict humanity in the turmoil of striving for lofty goals. They, in turn, danced generously.

    MAY 20, 2009

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