AUDIENCE REVIEW: Alison Cook Beatty Dance's "In Spite Of, Because Of… The Wallpaper"
Alison Cook Beatty Dance
January 23, 2021
I commend Alison Cook Beatty Dance for the work that they practiced, produced and premiered – all in a pandemic. Alison Cook Beatty created six new works in 2020, despite enduring all of the hardships that dance companies (if actively working) experienced. Even in March 2020, the company never stopped. They navigated Zoom rehearsals, danced in the sweaty sands of Central Park’s baseball fields, collaborated and produced a new work with body percussionist Michael Feigenbaum, and even bundled up in their winter best to dance in the snow. They masked up and worked together brilliantly as a team. Alison – with each new idea, and her passion to keep her work going – brought me a lot of hope and peace during the pandemic. Dance – art – perseveres, no matter what. In Spite Of, Because Of…The Wallpaper (2020) is one of the many beautiful 2020 ACBD premieres.
I had the pleasure of viewing In Spite Of, Because Of…The Wallpaper at Alison Cook Beatty Dance’s Virtual Performance and Gala 2020. Additionally, it was recently showcased in the 7MPR Fourth Midnight Virtual Performance New Year Revolution, and in GreenSpace’s Fertile Ground: New Works Showcase 2021. The piece is inspired by the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892), and features dancers Nika Antuanette, Vera Paganin, and Sasha Rydlizky.
“I wanted to draw attention to women’s mental health, and more broadly, people’s mental health, especially during this time…many people are hurting,” Alison Cook-Beatty informed me about her work. “This is a universal feeling.”
In Spite Of, Because Of… The Wallpaper is wrought with angst and tension. It was coincidentally created at a time where masses of people were in a lockdown of some capacity. Intentional or not, I saw the frustration and madness of being shut in an enclosed space reflected in the work. The piece opens with Nika seated in the upstage right corner – and then I remind myself that it is not a stage, but a space. She is in a small room with a wooden floor and a paisley yellow wallpaper. I noticed that within the paisley pattern, there is a subdued image of a woman, perhaps a nod to Alison’s goal of expressing women’s mental health in the work. There are three chairs in Nika’s small room as well. No window or door is visible.
Nika appears extremely agitated. All while sitting, she tosses her cardigan into the middle of the space, she fidgets, she claws at her sternum, she rips off her shoe and throws it away, she destroys her braid and lets her long, blonde hair flow wildly. Her long hair accentuates her jerky, yet deliberate, movements. Her costume; lace tights, a red dress with mesh black skirt, a discarded black cardigan, red lipstick – nods to the classicism of The Yellow Wallpaper.
When the music begins, Vera and Sasha appear – yes, appear, not enter – almost instantly. Clad in unitards (that match the yellow wallpaper’s pattern) and looking rather twin-like, the duo is projected behind Nika. Vera and Sasha balance the overall view of the scene; they mirror each other’s movements, and they dance precisely centered behind Nika. Their unitards separate them the from the humanity of Nika’s more pedestrian costume, making me wonder of their connection to Nika’s character.
Vera and Sasha execute sharp, technical standing poses. Nika transitions to the floor, laying on her back. She appears to scale the left wall with her feet, as if attempting to travel somewhere, but unsuccessfully. Nika’s movements remain twitchy and nervous. In contrast, the duo’s movement quality is smooth and controlled. They also tend to hit their “poses” in accordance with the music, which is an eerie piano - Jonathan Howard Katz, Ipseities, No. 6.
When Nika stands again, her movements grow larger in scale. She faces Vera and Sasha for the first time about two and a half minutes into the film, and I wonder if she can see them. I gather the sense that she can feel them.
The mood shifts when Vera and Sasha bourrée towards the camera, continuing to frame Nika but now standing significantly closer to my view. This gives the duo a stronger sense of power and control, particularly because Nika’s character escalates from seemingly anxious to blatantly panicked. Nika motions to fight off Vera and Sasha at one moment, making me wonder if they are the cause of her anxiety or if they are a result from it.
The music swells tremendously; Sasha swats and removes a piece of the virtual wallpaper. She removes a second piece. I am reminded of the fragility of our “safe spaces,” though it may have been an attempt at escape.
The lights grow extremely bright, causing the phantom-like projections of Vera and Sasha to vanish. I see Nika’s facial expression more clearly than any other moment in the piece. She appears content for the first time in the dance, gesturing beyond the camera with a deliberate reach – and it is over.
In reflecting on In Spite Of, Because Of…The Wallpaper, Alison stated, “I think people need to hear that it is okay not to be okay sometimes. And to remember that there is always hope. The final reach at the end that Nika does so beautifully signifies that – hope."