The Other End of the Earth

by Leigh Witchel

The interior of St. Mark’s Church, vaulted and spare, served as both a mirror and a foil for Douglas Dunn’s “Antipodes.” Inspired by his company’s trip last year to Australia, the stage was populated with cutouts of brightly colored birds and littered with filmy clothing, lying on the stage like the shed skin of a snake.

“Antipodes” alternated between dancing and singing interludes. There was little demarcation of a start; the dancers were on the stage stretching and posing. As more arrived what seemed random settled into a group: two lines like schoolchildren. A clock struck the hour, the music filtered on and the activity became a performance.

The instrumental score for piano and guitar by Steven Taylor and Laura Brenneman had the light, dreamy sound of Debussy. The singing, by Taylor, sometimes in English, sometimes not, told fables – a childhood garden being replaced by a locked castle.

“Antipodes.” Photo © Ian Douglas

Like the music, the dancing was also divided. There was an ensemble of eight, who moved with the clean equanimity of Dunn’s Cunningham heritage. Dunn’s choreography was neatly divided as well, partitioning the cast into pairs or quartets, sometimes setting a pair against the rest. At times it looked like square dances and quadrilles deconstructed; at other times the dancers balanced or torqued on one leg like birds.

More mysterious were the sections with Dunn and Grazia Della-Terza, who were billed in the program as “The White Dwarf” and “The Moon.” Dunn’s character had several incarnations that seemed to take him on a journey through the earth. He first appeared in ochre, shuffling and looking like the Tin Man fully rusted. Then he appeared in green, this time swollen with moisture. Finally he arrived as himself. Each time he carried a globe, first in baked brown, then blue-green, then white – each one smaller than the last. He and Della-Terza squabbled over custody of them several times.

Dunn could barely move in the first two outfits, reduced to dragging steps and wiggles, but he and Della-Terza walked among the dancers, touching them, their benediction impelling the cast into motion. Once he shed his earth-skins, Dunn did a final loose solo, contracting and releasing. Della-Terza handed him back the littlest white moon.

“Antipodes” wound down just a bit past the point where you wondered if it was going to amble on forever. The group returned, once again in their plumage of hoods and capes, and when Dunn and Della-Terza touched them, they dropped back to the ground. As the two peered at one another across the stage, the lights slowly dimmed.

“Antipodes” was post-modernism at its most rigorous and most gentle. It was an event that you let happen more than you parsed, and yet it made perfect, remote sense. Dunn’s dances seem to take place in some pastoral country, one very far away.

copyright © 2017 by Leigh Witchel

“Antipodes” – Douglas Dunn Dance
Danspace Project, New York, NY
February 2, 2017

Cover: Douglas Dunn, Grazia Della-Terza and the cast of “Antipodes.” Photo © Ian Douglas

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