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Dance Review (NYC): Dances in the Step Down Room by Peter Kyle Dance

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Last week Peter Kyle Dance performed Dances in the Step Down Room at Triskelion Arts Center in Brooklyn. Kyle is a dancer/choreographer with an impressive resume. He has danced for Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance, Mark Morris Dance Group, and Erick Hawkins Dance Company, among others. Since forming his own company, Peter Kyle Dance, in 2006 Kyle’s work has appeared at venues around the world. The choreographer is also known for his delightful Tiny Dance Films Series—short films played on very small screens at kiosks designed to look like little proscenium arches. At the Triskelion Arts Center two of these films were playing in the lobby. As in the films, the dance vision at work in Dances in the Step Down Room is personal, sometimes to the point of inscrutability.


Peter Kyle in Dances in the Step Down Room. Photo by Alissa Zee Hartmann.


The set is comprised of an Oriental rug, a cushioned armchair, a straight-backed chair, a small desk, and a mysterious white object d’art. The objet is removed by Kyle as soon as the piece begins. Dancer Holly Farmer appears in a sea-green chiffon ball gown, and surveys the scene in slow motion soutentues. The dances that take place in this space are well-crafted, and constructed with a minimum of movement vocabulary. Kyle uses repetition, very careful direction change, and the portability of the main set piece—the Oriental rug—to create a sense of deliberate disorientation. I kept thinking of the 2001 film Donnie Darko. The same sense of the supernatural lurking in the mundane (or the domestic) is at play.

This is not unpleasant; however, the effect would have been heightened with better musical choice. Lori Goldston’s music for solo cello dominated the program (the one musical exception to Goldston’s accompaniment was a piece by James Bigbee Garver, Kyle’s collaborator on the Tiny Dance film Series), and seemed intended to imply agitated stasis. The music included a perhaps improvised mix of harmonics, deliberately poor (or naïve) bowing technique, and double string soundings. This was certainly agitating, but more often sounded like self-indulgent and just plain old-fashioned noise. The second of Ms. Farmer’s solos was hampered by this aural distraction. Her last solo, however, was enjoyable. For this one, titled “String:Brocade,” Goldston was playing straight.

The dancers performing in Dances in the Step Down Room are excellent. Ms. Farmer left the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 2009. Last year I saw her perform in Twyla Tharp’s execrable homage to Frank Sinatra, Come Fly Away, at the Marquis Theater. It’s good to see Ms. Farmer dancing in something more intelligent. She has a weighted buoyancy and physical articulation better suited to postmodern dance. She also has some of the most pliant feet in the business. They make contact with the floor like tiny suction cups—soft but strong.

Ms. Farmer’s alter ego in Dances is Mercedes Searer. Whereas in her solos Searer is all jump and flash, Farmer is meditative and deliberate. Kyle is a fine dancer, too. Tall with impeccable line, his dance section starts with him walking backwards, the aforementioned object attached to his chest. With his head slightly raised and his arms extended, his posture is reminiscent of the Bellini painting of St. Francis of Assisi receiving the Stigmata. In the last section he wears street clothes and stretches in the living room. He wakes up to see the audience right before the blackout.

Why exactly does any of this happen? I’m not sure. But Dances in the Step Down Room isn’t a piece about easy answers. Kyle tells us so. During a section titled “Perched,” two vernacular characters, a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-like pair of stagehands played by Scott Giguere and Scott Nath, sit on a bench downstage and go at two crossword puzzles. They count to ten and swing their legs, adjust their positions on the bench, and usually fail to solve their clues. They’re happily lost in the sea of words, suggesting no point is fixed verbally. Ever. Better to make your own meaning and call it poetry.

Dances in the Step Down Room has closed. The company’s performance calendar can be viewed at its website.

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About Natalie Axton

  • I found the live musical improv very successful. FYI double strings are not a mistake. They are actually called double-stops.