Different Angles

By Leigh Witchel

Dylan Crossman assumes nothing – even that the seats in a theater are where you should sit.  The viewers for “Here We Are” were guided down the aisle of the Abrons Arts Center, helped up steps to the stage (this is New York City, somebody thought about potential liability issues and litigation) and to a bank of chairs on risers at the left side of the stage.

Everything had been thrown on a right angle.  Instead of looking at the proscenium, we were facing the backstage rigging.  On the stripped stage in an alcove at the back, Crossman and four other dancers were already in motion, pounding through a martial combination: four marching steps, two steps to turn – over and over.

“Here We Are.” Photo © John Suhar.

Looking to our left at where we would have sat, Sumi Clements, in white, was standing on a platform built on the seats.  When she moved, she slowly wrapped her arms round herself, rocking her torso like a wash cycle.

Once we were seated the marching varied slightly; any of the dancers might break away briefly to head mid-stage and return.  The dances that followed gave hints of relationship and story, but it shouldn’t surprise you that there were neither.  Crossman’s notes said that the work was inspired by, but not based on, Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” a 1984 novel that wove the tale of a womanizing doctor and his relationships with ruminations about what makes life light or grounded.

Crossman avoided a heavy state of being for the dance:  In a soundscape of loud industrial noises, the episodes felt like snapshots from a dream, yet if without cause and effect pieced together deliberately.  The dancers periodically disappeared into an alcove with the backstage doors becoming wings.   They would mysteriously appear from other doors to march again.

Brown-haired Una Ludviksen stopped Crossman’s marching and turning.  They embraced, she smiled.  He began again.  When he stopped, they had a short conversation we could not hear.  Their body language was innocuous; throughout “Here We Are,” the most focusing thing was the feeling you were watching ordinary events, yet without a sense of what was going on or what might happen next.

(L to R) Brandon Washington, Una Ludviksen and Dylan Crossman in “Here We Are.” Photo © John Suhar.

Crossman, one of the last dancers in Cunningham’s company, took the sharp angles of that technique, but used them in simpler, less packed phrases.  The dancing proceeded, tight yet dreamlike.   Crossman cradled Ludviksen in his arms and backed off the stage with her: The Poet and The Sleepwalker in Balanchine’s “La Sonnambula” with the role-reversal undone.  But instead of disappearing, Crossman came back in another door and set Ludviksen down.

Things proceeded until the score had one very loud noise.  Crossman moved and stopped.  The lights came up on the woman in white, still agitating on her platform.  Beyond that, a light went on in the theater’s balcony, and we could see Ludviksen, in the embrace of another man in the cast.  Darkness.  A long silence followed waiting for everyone to get back from the reaches of the house to the stage and we figured out that it was the end.

“Here We Are” was dogged, repetitious yet serene, and like Cunningham, had the sense that you were watching something with both more and less meaning than you were being told.  But where Crossman really claimed his heritage was in refusing to assume anything about what it means to watch a dance in a theater, and insisting we figure it out anew for ourselves.

copyright © 2017

by Leigh Witchel

“Here We Are” – Dylan Crossman Dans(c)e
Abrons Art Center, New York, NY
June 28, 2017

Cover: “Here We Are.” Photo © John Suhar.

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