Pure Shick

Jody Bender and Marilyn Maywald Yahel in “Another Spell.” Photo © Ian Douglas.

by Martha Sherman

Vicky Shick walked out on stage before the start of “Another Spell” to offer the usual curtain announcements about exits and bathrooms, and also to seriously intone a familiar alert: “Any resemblance of the characters in this work to anyone, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” The audience giggled, especially those who’ve seen Shick’s work before. The hour-long sextet that she occasionally invaded made minimal attempts at structure and none at plot; what she offered was glimpses of relationships and shifting balances. Nothing Shick does resembles anyone else. Her mysterious movement and the connections she draws are uniquely her own. “Another Spell” was no exception; and it was, again, spellbinding.

This troupe of women have danced with Shick for many years and were entirely familiar characters, because we’ve seen them on this stage with her before. They now inhabit her world so convincingly that Shick credited them all as co-choreographers.

Each dancer wore a unique and idiosyncratic costume—some gleaned from past works — mixing black, gray, and white (by longtime collaborator Barbara Kilpatrick); they matched – but didn’t.

As is Shick’s way, the movement was both quotidian and surprising. The dancers fluttered the backs of their hands lightly down their cheeks and shoulders, or raised their arms as if a puff of wind had caught their weightless arms.

The movement’s flow was just as curious and subtle – flat, floating, weighty, jittery, calm. The weave was unpredictable, with threads dropped or picked up, often taking, giving, or sharing some cue from the score (by Elise Kermani and Todd Lent) It shifted from electronic and rhythmic to melodic to silence. The mood was rarely somber, never comic, but something in between – a casual intimacy.

Heather Olson in “Another Spell.” Photo © Ian Douglas.

Shick used Danspace’s generous performing stage to her advantage, especially the deep floor of the sanctuary at St Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, which allowed the dancers to pick up speed bounding downstage, or in the long diagonal of the stage. Even the columns, often a visual sightline problem, became part of the dance when Heather Olsen, wearing the black frame of a hoop skirt over her black short bodysuit, rubbed her way up one of the columns, vamping and eyeing the audience, squishing herself into the ribs of the skirt before releasing them.

An added set element was a pair of rolling coat racks, one draped with a rust-colored curtain, the other with a black cloth that had pairs of sleeves for arms protruding. They were used as a not-quite-shield, one dancer often solo in front of the screen, with one or more barely hidden behind. Sometimes they emerged, sometimes they evaporated as the screen was shifted to another position. All that space, all of those places to hide made the work almost site-specific to the church.

Heather Olson, Lily Gold, Donna Costello in “Another Spell.” Photo © Ian Douglas.

In one repeated move, dancers stood deep upstage, grasped each other by the napes of their necks and shirts, rushing and dragging them forward towards the audience, like unexpected criminals or bad children being brought to task. The distance they covered felt like their momentum would crash them into us, both an exciting and dangerous imagining. And funny.

Also familiar was the dancers’ gaze. In Shick’s work, the dancers don’t stare into space, they look directly at us, and at each other. No one pretended we were invisible; they saw us. It was intimate, and mesmerizing. As dancers moved in and out of the performance, they watched each other, too, from the large seating steps that surround the Danspace floor. Shick joined the six dancers twice, not as a star or soloist, just as an intermittent partner. She inhabits her movement and embodies it; no one floats like Shick. When she partnered with a dancer, their perfect parallels – raised arm or profile, a low kick or side collapse – were reminders that every movement was a disciplined choice. There was nothing approximate in this alternate universe, and it was non-stop.

There were parades of solos, broken by duets and trios, as the group of six moved around each corner of the large space. It was inevitable and unpredictable at the same time, hiccups of familiar moves (the light collapse to the side, the fluttering hand gesture) sometimes invading a new pattern. And the knowing irony of Shick’s opening comment echoed to the last: all was familiar, nothing coincidence. The characters they resembled were themselves, the inhabitants of a purely Shick universe.

copyright © 2017 by Martha Sherman

“Another Spell” – Vicky Shick
Danspace Project, St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, New York, NY
January 6, 2017

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