General 7-13-2004

Anything’s Possible: “The Cult of Dorian Grey”

Lightsey Darst hangs on to her hat at the Red Eye; Gerry Girouard's "Dorian Grey" is both fantastic and incomplete--but great, somehow, despite all.

Gerry Girouard and Dancers: “The Cult of Dorian Grey,” through July 25, at the Red Eye Theater.

Anything’s possible. Set up a few walls and you can bounce off them, put your feet up on them, stand on your hands and writhe against gravity; make your walls transparent and you give the audience a pavement’s view of human life, the twisting legs foreshortened, need expressed by two feet driving into their ground. You can throw things, catch things, pass them between your legs basketball-style, make contact from across the stage not with a look or an outstretched arm but with a flying backpack. Stand on your head, spin on your head, hang from an overhead ladder by your knees—extreme new moves to embody those old emotions of anger, fear, longing.

Use multimedia: project a slide onto a cloth a dancer holds, making her desire visible. Take any source material, however unlikely (Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities), combine it with anything else (reality TV), and set it against an improvised and remixed score (improvisations by Todd Reynolds and Michelle Kinney, composition and mixing by Christopher Cunningham)—whatever you want, whatever you need, a cartwheel, a tango beat, a tan suit, take it, use it, it’s yours.

I’m giving away Gerry Girouard’s tricks here, I know, but I’m doing it for good reasons. First, I’d like to see Girouard’s ideas disseminated across dance in the Twin Cities. I don’t want this to be the last time I see dancers throwing things at each other, or flinging each other around in such explicitly hostile partnering. Or take the box in the upstage corner: a stage within a stage, in which two dancers wall-climb or hang from the laddered ceiling or simply writhe against the box walls while other dancers fight downstage. It’s a Cornell box for humans, a zoo window without safety glass, a prison, a laboratory run by unkind gods. It’s an idea that deserves exploration—but Girouard barely flirts with it, using this separate space only a few times.

Thus my second reason: Girouard’s ideas crave expansion. “The Cult of Dorian Gray” is thick, is overloaded with concepts and techniques, but they’re undeveloped, skin deep. The first time someone throws a briefcase, it’s surprising; the second time, it’s familiar; the third time, it’s dull—not because throwing itself is limited, but because Girouard doesn’t vary the mood or the pace. The wall-dance suffers from the same problem. Take five dancers, put their hands on the floor and their feet on the wall, twist, and come down; repeat; repeat. On the other hand, some steps are flashes, not repeated at all, and some concepts and techniques described in the choreographer’s notes never make an entrance. I’ve entirely missed what The Picture of Dorian Gray has to do with the performance, and I wouldn’t care, really, except that Girouard seems to think it’s important. Emotional impact, the first gasp, Girouard has down; but now he needs to vary and combine his steps, let them echo from different distances; this way a step gathers emotional resonance and deepened meaning.

“The Cult of Dorian Gray” isn’t built for a large scale. Moments are magic, but don’t adhere. Girouard makes extraordinary steps, but not combinations or sustained passages. There’s struggle, but nothing changes or tries to change. There’s a setting, and one dancer (Jennifer Isle) emerges as a character, but there’s no narrative. It’s not that narrative is essential, but we need some dynamic, whether it’s an emotional arc, a developing concept, or the evolution of a single step. The score suffers from the same problem: on the small scale it’s vivid and deep-woven, and Michelle Kinney’s cello bleeds and reverberates, but over time there’s nothing to follow, to ride.

Watching this performance feels like harvesting pearls a little too early. Girouard has all the bits of grit, the ideas, but he hasn’t integrated them yet. Next time, maybe, he’ll have sunk his concepts and props into his art. In the meantime, we have this: wicked knife-eyed tango. Two bodies making a square frame, a brief and awkward balance in a cruel duet. Arms suddenly flung open in a hungry grab that’s both frightening and moving in its desperation. Partnered flips and leaps so fast, so strange, so brave they burn afterimages into the retinas. Girouard’s sense of the possible, and his ambition.

And there are the dancers, athletic, fearless, and enthusiastic. Pam Plagge, David Wick, and David DeBlieck perform well. Galen Treuer stands out: he’s strong yet vulnerable, liquid, so that he seems to be carried along by the music, or the other dancers, or some current on the stage. If he were a woman we’d call him nubile; there’s that invitation about his dancing.

Jennifer Isle, on the other hand, is clearly on her own power, but she can throw away her intimidating strength and sink to seductive weakness when she wants to, as when she writhes against the transparent wall under her leaning partner (Wick). She’s unsettling: she so perfectly portrays the expert, shameless manipulator that I was afraid she’d do something degrading, something difficult to watch. She opens a door into darker emotions that the performance isn’t quite ready for.