Fragmented, but still whole – DD Dorvillier’s “A catalogue of steps” at Danspace Project

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DD Dorvillier’s A catalogue of steps: Day 2, Diamonds Déjà-vu
Performed Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Danspace Project, St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery

New York, NY

On a Wednesday afternoon in St. Mark’s Church, the scene is surprisingly casual considering there’s a performance in progress. An audience of about 12 lounges around on the dance floor’s perimeter as three dancers dressed in plain blue-gray shorts and t-shirts with black high-top sneakers stomp, fall, run, and jump about the space. The movement on display is collectively called “Diamonds Déjà-vu,” and is the second installment of Puerto Rican-born choreographer DD Dorvillier’s A catalogue of steps, part of her larger work Diary of an Image for Danspace Project’s annual Platform series.

Over the course of three hours, the trio of dancers (Nibia Pastrana, Katerina Andreou, and Oren Barnoy) performed a series of nine movement “fragments” taken from Dorvillier’s choreographic canon and rearranged in a one-hour loop. According to Dorvillier’s notes (and suggested by the title), this set of fragments “highlights mirroring, doubling, reflecting, kaleidoscoping” – four tools for magnifying movement. Though repetition and cyclic structures are at the heart of the day’s presentation, the work is never stale. Instead, because the audience was encouraged to move about the room during the performance to view each phrase from multiple angles, repetition is beneficial. As each fragment became more familiar to the eye, it’s possible to pick out the patterns and qualities that tie these fragments together, and, perhaps more importantly, what sets them apart. Like visitors to an art gallery, they are gifted the luxury of quality time with each fragment, and much like a painting or a sculpture, new contours and details become clear as the cycles continue.

But before A Catalogue of Steps can be performed, the namesake catalogue must be shared with the dancers, and before it can be shared, it must be defined. Dorvillier scrutinized 300 of her movement fragments (about 40 of which will be shown at St. Mark’s) and used her observations to create an impressive taxonomy of her own choreography. Not unlike Laban, she seems to be searching for a way to describe her movements in terms of their physical shapes (Animalistic, Kinesthetic), spatial relationships (2D unision, Kaleidoscopic), or common vocabularies (references to a recognizable movement style, like ballet or Hula). It’s an incredibly personal project, and at the end of it, the previous life of each movement fragment is sacrificed for the sake of this new research. There are no lights, no costumes, and no music to support the movement this time around. And though Dorvillier undoubtedly spent a great deal of time deciding just how to integrate these external elements into her choreography during each fragment’s original presentation, her willingness to present them now, years later, as bare movement exercises shows her concern and curiosity for the raw choreography above any other presentational extravagances.

Both analytic and synoptic, Catalogue is as much an autobiography as it is a retrospective. But Catalogue is not about turning inward on Dorvillier’s works; it’s about turning them inside out. Framed by the church’s alter and stained glass windows, each movement fragment feels like an offering that the audience may either take or leave. The performers stay true to the goal of the project, drawing as little attention to their personalities as possible in order to keep the focus on the movement. They exchange parts after each cycle, so I was able to see both Andreou and Pastrana perform a solo that consisted of 11 steps forward, a sideways lean, the resulting fall, and a recovery run in a wide circle that returned the dancer to the starting position. Of all the nine fragments, I found it the most exposing, probably because of the way the dancer must look directly towards the audience. For being two different women, their performances were surprisingly uniform: they had the same expression of determined curiosity, looking beyond the eyes of their audience and towards some imagined vista beyond the walls of the church.

I was first introduced to Dorvillier’s work in late 2012, when she presented Danza Permanente at The Kitchen. With Danza Permanente, Dorvillier used her dancers as instruments, such that the sonic score was almost entirely composed of the rhythms created by the dancers footfalls. In Catalogue, the same attention to rhythm is one of the most striking qualities of the work. Just as each repeated fragment becomes familiar to the eye, their rhythms become equally familiar to the ear. Choreographically speaking, it’s a clever tool that Dorvillier uses to reinforce the uniformity between the repetitions and between the dancers.

Reading through Dorvillier’s explanation of her taxonomy, I’m reminded of a line from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. When faced with the challenge of finding a new approach to her writing after the death of her husband, Didion adopted the mantra, “Read, learn, work it up, go to the literature. Information is control.” After watching Catalogue, it seems like Dorvillier might say the same thing about dance. This new creation springs directly from a critical understanding and interpretation of her own artistic past. How fitting that Dorvillier should identify “kaleidoscoping” as a theme for today, for it seems she’s created a two-fold kaleidoscope of her own. As the audience revolves around the fragments of dances scattered about the floor, those fragments revolve around, project, and distort their own original image. But unlike a kaleidoscope, Dorvillier’s intention becomes clearer with each turn; perhaps by the end of the project, we’ll know once and for all what it’s all about.

A catalogue of steps continues for the next two weeks at St. Mark’s Church on June 4, 11, and 14. For a complete calendar of the numerous events occurring during Platform 2014: Diary of an Image, visit Danspace Project’s online calendar. Each performance of A catalogue of steps is free and open to the public; no reservations required.


One thought on “Fragmented, but still whole – DD Dorvillier’s “A catalogue of steps” at Danspace Project

  1. Pingback: Celebrating Point of Contact’s Second Anniversary! | Point of Contact

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