Published on August 23, 2010

"90 Ways to Wake From Drowning" at The Joyce, Soho | Saturday July 31st at 8pm

Choreography: Sara A.O. Rosner
Dancers: Lillie De Armon, Cristina Jansen, Cory Antiel, Jon Cooper, Ilona Bito, Rowan Magee, and Larissa Sheldon
Costumes: Hunter Kaczorowski
Lighting: Lauren Parrish
By Liz Gorgas 2010
AO Movement Collective [Photos © Cristina Ramirez Hirst]

There is an ominous, catastrophic crash of metal meeting metal before the blinding flash of light captures five figures standing horrified around an inert body. They stare down a moment, disbelieving, before dispersing into fruitless action as each reacts to the event in their own, chaotically nonsensical way. “I just need to see it again,” Ilona Bito desperately implores in the opening sequence of Sarah A.O. Rosner’s 90 ways to Wake from drowning, a work of dance theatre which had its premiere at the Joyce SoHo. The stage is littered with plastic grocery bags and strewn with the relics of technology; televisions and VCRs dominate while the sleek black innards of VHS and cassette tapes stream across the floor. Lauren Parrish’s nuanced understanding of light gives profound depth to the air. Between the rending of the performance space and Ms. Bito’s piteously plea it is clear: Something Has Happened.

What exactly that “something” is, however, depends on which member of the A.O.Movement Collective you ask, and that is the crux of this multi-layered evening-length work. To watch Ms. Bito, the tragedy is an oppressive relationship with Rowan Magee who uses his considerable height advantage to dominate her, his long limbs climbing needily up her body until she can only strain underneath his weight. A trio between the two and a plastic bag gives a glimpse into the relationship that has put her, quite literally, in this position. The mundane crinkling of the bag gives voice to their partnership; the game that ensues is an exercise in how much can be revealed about the two before the bag can reach the ground.
AO Movement Collective [Photos © Cristina Ramirez Hirst]

For Cristina Jasen, an everyday trip to the grocery store with partner Cory Antiel, both perched atop televisions, turns tragic when their pedestrian gesture-fueled grocery list (their need for coffee becomes the circular swirl of a finger), segues into a collision set to ear-splitting rock music. Ms. Jasen’s limbs jerk about propelled by the invisible crash, soon turn into an ecstatically transcendent, slow-motion revelry, a meditation of an individual’s ability to find grace in even their darkest moments. The most gorgeous moment comes when Ms. Jasen is systematically destroyed by Mr. Antiel’s attempts to tenderly kiss her, each kiss eating away at her ability to control her own body until she has corroded into a gorgeous, physics-defying back bend.
AO Movement Collective [Photos © Cristina Ramirez Hirst]

It isn’t very long before we are back to the scene that began the performance. “I just need to see it again,” Ms. Bito entreats and she will get her wish as the scene shifts back to this moment a total of four times before the evening is over, however each reiteration is slightly different and it becomes obvious this isn’t a dance-drama version of “Groundhog’s Day,” but the fractured memories of a mind straining to find a resolution to an event that has left it deeply traumatized. Whose mind it is becomes irrelevant, just as it doesn’t matter if the body in the beginning is Ms. Jasen’s, battered by a car crash; Ms. Bito’s battered by a failing relationship; or Jon Coopers’ as he struggles to find peace in a homosexual relationship that leaves him splintered. The resilience of the human mind comes in the last image when Ms. Bito, burdened once more by Mr. Magee’s desperate clinging, accepts his weight and is driven to the ground. Together they lie on the ground, amidst the chaos of their world, and find peace.
AO Movement Collective [Photos © Cristina Ramirez Hirst]

The weaknesses in “90 ways” come from Ms. Rosner’s insistence that each company member have their own solo moment center stage. While this rational doling of segments may have appealed to the choreographer’s democratic sensibilities, it only serves to prove how much better developed the key narrative plotlines are.

Lillie DeArmon’s moment has a promising beginning as she shouts reflexively at a dancer rushing at her “You can’t hurt me, I’m self destructive!” but disintegrates from there. Larissa Sheldon is given a particularly baffling solo wherein she whips her arm in a circle until it becomes a blur, though Hunter Kaczorowski’s costume of a black mini dress with strategic splashes of lace makes gorgeous use of Ms. Sheldon’s lanky build. Despite some missteps, Mr. Rosner’s “90 ways to Wake from drowning” is a tour de force by this promising, twenty-four year old choreographer.


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