IMPRESSIONS: Alejandro Cerrudo's "It Starts Now" at The Joyce Theater
October 1, 2021
Choreographer: Alejandro Cerrudo
Performance: Eddieomar Gonzalez-Castillo, Haley Heckethorn, Ana Lopez, Stefanie Noll, Seia Rassenti, Robert Rubama, Daniel Rae Srivastava, Benjamin Holliday Wardell
Lighting and Technical Direction: Michael Korsch
Costuming: Branimira Ivanova
You’ve seen it all before, and now you can see it all in one place: the world premiere of Alejandro Cerrudo’s It Starts Now at The Joyce Theater. The all I’m talking about is the sheer number of contemporary dance tropes, gags, and gimmicks that punctuate the 65-minute piece. A been-there-seen-that quality pervades the elements from major to minor, and I spent much of the show remembering where I saw them first.
As one example from many, the last few minutes feature a brief duet between Daniel Rae Srivastava and Ana Lopez (at least, I think it’s them; it was often too dark to make out faces). The latter has sported a purple shirt until this moment where she appears topless, apropos of nothing. It looks pulled from Jiri Kylian’s 27:52 (2002), a ploy I found corny and gratuitous then — and certainly now.
Much of the dancing bleeds into an indistinguishable stream of stock moves for sock-clad feet. Eight dancers lunge, skip, ripple, and roll across the floor, and then they do it again (and again) in varying assemblages. Sometimes, one artist will place a hand atop another’s head, as if they’re a pet, and manipulate him or her into action. We’re probably supposed to think it’s cool, but by the second time, I was over it. (This was a hot trend in Latin ballroom about a decade ago.)
Since the movement employs similar content, the burden of context falls to the score — a pastiche of whiny cello, semi-stirring electronica, and strumming guitars. My least favorite sonic hack, movie clips of men speechifying (think Charlie Chaplin’s final speech from The Great Dictator), occurs to little effect beyond making the choreography seem more important than it is. With no rhyme or reason as to why this piece of music (out of the 16+ listed in the program) accompanies that section of dancing, your guess is as good as mine about what it means beyond casting a vaguely saturnine mood.
The posture of the dancers intensifies the angsty vibe. With their gaze directed downward and their shoulders hunched forward, the octet often resembled a pack of brooding teenagers who wouldn’t stand up and look out on a dare. It’s not until curtain call that we see them as light-filled humans rather than mopey misanthropes.
A gothic aesthetic where time contracts and expands would be something to lean into, but goofy gimmicks interrupt the concept. As folks are still taking their seats, the curtain opens to reveal a partially rolled-up piece of white marley. When the house lights go down, someone unspools the marley to reveal a man. Presto! It’s the dance equivalent of pulling a bunny out of a top hat. (Spoiler alert: the metaphorical bunny returns to its original place at the end.) Other stunts include fog emitting from bodies, hats, handheld lights, men in skirts, beating heart gesticulations, snogging, and an explosion of papery rectangles that stay littered downstage for the entirety of the piece.
I know I sound jaded and cranky in this review, but that’s not my natural state. (See here, here, and here). Maybe it’s because I’ve been away from the theater for so long, but style — and It Starts Now is stylish, no doubt — isn’t enough. I need substance, too.