IMPRESSIONS: Mystical Feet Company in Yehuda Hyman's "Secret of the Possible" at the Theater at the 14th Street Y
Conceived, directed, written, and choreographed by Yehuda Hyman
Performed by Hallie Chametzky, Aviya Hernstadt, Aria Roach, James C. Harris, Matthew DeCostanza, Henry Winslow, Madelyn Wansong, Oksana Horban, William Catanzaro, and Yehuda Hyman
Live Music composed and performed by William Catanzaro
Lighting design by Philip Treviño // Sound engineering by Jesse Timm
Stage Management by Isaac Goldbaum and Liam Riordan // Assistant Stage Manager Josh Bloom
Words are useful for telling stories, but some stories — ah! Some stories can only be told by dancing. For instance, there’s the mysterious little tale that Hallie Chametzky and her friends encounter in “Effect,” the first episode of Secret of the Possible. Yehuda Hyman’s Mystical Feet Company presented this marvelous collection of dance-theater miniatures inspired by Martin Buber’s collections of Hassidic folklore, on December 19, at the Theater of the 14th Street Y.
Although that first story is brief — only 24 words long, so we’re told — it has staggering powers. Chametzky, Aria Roach and Aviya Hernstadt, three young housewives in the Pale of Settlement, are willing to risk everything to hear it, hoping it will illumine and transfigure their colorless existence. Defying their families and courting disaster, the three conspirators sneak away in the dead of night to make a forbidden journey, travelling to Mezeritch for an interview with the charismatic story-teller known as the Maggi (Henry Winslow). This awe-inspiring figure casts a spell over them, leading them through a dance that has the force of a revelation, making the women laugh, roll, and jump for joy.
Travelling to Mezeritch, however, has presented serious obstacles, and on the way home the women’s rash outlay of lies and bribes lands them in trouble. When they are arrested, the officer naturally demands to hear the Maggid’s story. So, Chametzky tells him. Striking her forehead with the back of her hands and swooning, she clutches the Maggid’s precious insights to her chest. “I’m not a dance fan,” the officer answers drily. Of course, he isn’t; and so, the joyous revelation will remain closed to him.
Hyman is the star of the evening’s second episode, “The Merchant of Mezeritch.” Here we are treated to the story of a businessman, a practical fellow who admits to an obsession with compasses. On a compass, North is always North; South is always South; and the two can never meet. Our businessman doesn’t like vague “in-between” spaces; and on this practical foundation he builds a financial empire selling schmaltz and buttons from a cart. Alas! He will lose every penny of it when he falls under the Maggid’s spell.
Portraying the businessman, Hyman’s expressive face twitches and stretches. Confronted with the prospect of utter ruin, he hiccoughs dyspeptically and slurps from an invisible glass of tea. Then he falls into a trance-dance shivering and prancing, circling and falling, his body and his whole world overthrown. Under the Maggid’s guidance, the businessman has arrived at a place where concepts like North and South no longer have meaning, where opposites are reconciled and the world is whole again. (Religious historian Mircea Eliade describes this place, and the coincidentia oppositorum, in his book The Two and the One.) Bereft of his material wealth, Hyman’s character stands at the gates of true wisdom. He could only have arrived here by dancing.
By now, the audience has also attained a kind of ecstasy observing the simple but ingenious means that Hyman employs to spin these delightful yarns. Props are few; words carefully chosen; and the dancers’ bodies freely expressive. William Catanzaro’s sound-score is also essential, supplying both evocative melodies and sound effects like the clip-clop of horses’ hooves, and the voice of an off-stage character in the evening’s third episode, “This Is the Time to Dance.”
The “in-between” space where Hyman takes us in Secret of the Possible is part dance, part theater, and part story-telling, giving enormous scope to an audience’s imagination.