Try a Little Tenderness

by Martha Sherman

Amanda Loulaki’s newest dance was so gentle it was gripping. The soft landscape of her “house of winds: a process for Untitled 2” a duet for Loulaki and collaborator Pedro Osorio, traveled on physical, emotional, and ethereal planes at the same time. Although she used softness in every element of the production, it all served the drama of relationship, and it was magnetizing.

The flexible performing space at Gibney Dance’s Agnes Varis Center was all gray: the walls, the floor, and the cushions for audience members to recline on. The lighting, by master Joe Levasseur, faded gently in and around the players, using the two large overhead skylights as well as the electric tools of his trade. Tei Blow’s score moved from soft hissing to complex electronic textures. All wove a cocoon for the movement, an exploration of the relationship between Loulaki and Osorio, and their connection with the audience strewn along the floor.

As the audience was still settling into the space, Loulaki glided in, walking dreamily among the pillows. With the subtlest shift in lighting, she entered our vision and consciousness, and slid to the floor, to slowly roll, limb by limb. In short order, she had reached a pillow, and a lap. Slowly, deliberately, she rolled her head onto the leg of the sitter, then paused. This was the first lap of many that Loulaki, and later Osorio, inhabited. The pauses as they lay still were long and soulful, and each pause and connection resonated with benevolence. Osorio joined in, but danced and rolled separated from Loulaki. Often one of the two was hidden from view, depending on the audience member’s vantage point, but a new roll or shift brought them back in sight.

All rules have their exceptions, and so did those in “house of winds.” After the extended opening scene, the relaxation in the room was palpable, just in time for a shocking shift, as the space turned bright magenta, and a roaring drum solo (by Kid Millions) filled the room. It was a bold transition (as if in homage to Cunningham and Cage, where music and movement were often randomly paired), but the movement didn’t lose its tenderness.

Pedro Osorio and Amanda Loulaki in “house of winds: a process for Untitled 2.” Photo © Scott Shaw.

The contrasting environment, highlighted the quality of the movement just as convincingly as the quiet space had. Instead of assaulting us with dramatic movement to match the surrounding boldness, Loulaki pulled back into a new form of soft waves and shifts. As she and Osorio moved together, their leans and stretches were embraces. After rolling on the floor among the audience, they then connected in standing or kneeling poses, or on their backs.

Loulaki often rolls her head and shakes her soft hair in characteristic whirls and curves in each of her works. Osorio, sporting even longer hair caught back in a ponytail, might have echoed that movement, but instead his personal vocabulary centered on his back and shoulders. Though their movements were different, the links and echoes, like the piles of pillows and people on the floor, rolled like a landscape, in the hills and valleys of interconnection.

In duets that were laced with agape, Loulaki and Osorio drew us into their personal universe. Their outstretched arms pinwheeled into embracing wings; later, on their knees, Loulaki leaned back against Osorio’s chest, eyes closed, completely safe. He rubbed his face against her forearm and onto her back, an animal lovingly grooming against a partner. Soon, they became a four legged/two-headed beast, his arms and neck behind as he guided her torso, awkward and graceful at the same time. Finally, they oozed together into the laps of two side-by-side audience members, and rested. The lights overhead softened and gave way to the ambient light of the skylights; the score hissed to silence, and Loulaki and Osorio rested peacefully. It was done.

copyright © 2017 by Martha Sherman

“house of winds: a process for Untitled 2” – Amanda Loulaki
Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, New York, NY
February 3, 2017

Cover: Amanda Loulaki in “house of winds: a process for Untitled 2.” Photo © Scott Shaw.

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