Deganit Shemy’s 2 kilos of sea started its life as a site-specific dance work commissioned by Sitelines as part of the 2010 River to River Festival. Last week it got a new gig as a concert dance courtesy of its theatrical premier at the Howard Gilman Performance Space at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. I missed last year’s site-specific version of the piece. Although the new, theatrical version certainly stands alone, I imagine a comparison of the two versions of the dance would improve one’s appreciation for the New York based Israeli choreographer’s talents.
In the BAC program notes Shemy’s bio states that her works create “a critical gap between content and form through distinguished movement vocabulary.” I think this is a fair assessment, at least in the case of 2 kilos of sea. The 50-minute piece meditates on itself. If you can make yourself comfortable with its opacity you get the story of a strange world.
For some that may be a big “if.” 2 kilos of sea is packed with dialectics: open and closed (in terms of both the set and the dancing); the group versus the individual; tension and release (in terms of the movement and the narrative structure). The four women dancers—Denisa Musilova, Savina Theodoru, Elyssa Dole, and Rebecca Warner—start the piece investigating a giant yellow Slinky. They approach in a group, one of them kicks the Slinky, and they all retreat to safety. After a few rounds of this the dancers scatter. Dancer Michael Ingle enters dramatically, conjured by one of the women. He will eventually alter the group dynamic.
The set (Lenore Doxsee) and sound design (Jim Dawson) create a nostalgic mood within a kind of wasted municipal space. The space is defined by a catwalk of Astroturf ringed by orange safety netting and a half wall reminiscent of concrete barriers. A photograph of an empty Olympic size swimming pool hangs at the back, the lane lines providing perspective. These and other surreal elements of the set—a toy car on a string, a skateboard cutout of more Astroturf—combine with clips of old-fashioned social dance music, most often tangos and polkas, to suggest the dancers could be performing dreams or memories. The first sounds we hear are waves and young voices. It sounds the way a day at the beach should sound. By the end of the piece, when the dancers take their bows, we know they’re on a stage.
Throughout, snippets of social dancing appear in the form of linked arms and unison footwork. Mostly, the dance language of the piece is repetitive and, when performed in unison, affectless. A duet for Dole and Ingle, however, hints at longing and erotic play. While they’re together the three other women dance a childlike circle game outside the orange netting. This is maturity counterposed with childhood, another one of the dance’s theatrical tensions.
Shemy also plays with the piece’s fourth dimension—time. The dancing happens at an even pace, and for most of the piece there is at least one dancer marking time in a triplet step. When the dancers speak they twitter in high-pitched squeaks. If we could slow down their voices their movement would be in slow motion. And what of the occasional seizures and fits of frustration the dancers display? Maybe Shemy’s dancers are giants—or gods—acting out a creation myth. (In the end Ingle settles for one of the three women, Warner.) Maybe this is the inner ecology of autism. Or maybe it’s how we’ll all look at the end of the Internet, when our devices go dark, and we have to learn how to be human again.