Review of “Noise + Speed” by Deborah Jowitt, originally published in the Village Voice, May 20, 2008
Hilary Easton + Company
Danspace at St. Mark’s Church, NYC
May 8 – 10, 2008
Hilary Easton approaches contemporary horrors by devising movement structures that mirror social disintegration. In Noise + Speed, she revisits the Italian Futurists, who, between two world wars, preached the violent disruption of art traditions, embraced technology, and glorified combat. Making use of texts such as F.T. Marinetti’s “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” (1909) and seasoning their rants with Doris Humphrey’s prescriptive The Art of Making Dances, Easton attempts to show how oversimplification and institutionalization can corrupt theories so gradually that we fail to notice the malignancy. Noise + Speed may be her most complex and ambitious piece, and, engrossing as it is, it sometimes has a hard time conveying all that it must through dance.
Three of Marinetti’s artworks, enlarged, show black-painted words and letters exploding. Actor Steven Rattazzi delivers the texts, fairly screaming Marinetti’s call to destroy museums and libraries. The choreography focuses on conformity, erosion, and limited violence. Wearing drably handsome gray costumes by Madeleine Walach and eloquently lit by Carol Mullins, Easton’s expert dancers (Alexandra Albrecht, Michael Ingle, Joshua Palmer, Emily Pope-Blackman, and Sarah Young) often pause to check one another, very aware of any deviations from an apparently decreed pattern. Thomas Cabaniss’s terrifically effective original score for string ensemble, keyboard, and percussion underlines the tensions.
In the beginning, confined to corridors of light, the five performers wheel, lunge, and twist in shifting contrapuntal patterns. Everything looks deliberate, except the casual lifting of one person by another that presages more vicious handling. Rattazzi and Easton arrive together—he to articulate Luigi Russolo’s enthusiastic “The Art of Noise” (1913), she to dance. She’d like Rattazzi to understand her, to imitate her bold, sensate movements, and he—nimble, though clearly not a dancer—obliges fitfully. Later, Humphrey’s ideas about well-made dances inhibit Albrecht, Young, and Pope-Blackman—the first two usually in synch and Pope-Blackman exploring new territory. When Young thinks to join the latter, Albrecht calls her to order with an “Ahem!”
The dancing gradually becomes more distorted. The performers wiggle and shake. They turn on one another, and in the appalling duet that accompanies Valentine de Saint-Point’s 1912 manifesto on the righteousness of lust, Palmer attacks Albrecht and hauls her around in painful ways. After this, Easton stares sternly at Rattazzi, like a mother expecting an explanation from an errant child. She demonstrates some curious, wobbly movements, along with echoes of bold affirmative ones. Rattazzi tries to duplicate this deteriorated version of something that was once brave and new. In the end, drums are heard, and the dancers march, although not in lockstep. Marinetti, it must be remembered, embraced fascism. What “ism” do we dance to now?