There’s a specific kind of pleasure that comes from seeing a work of art that’s both confounding and a whole lot of fun. It’s different from the joy you can take in pure comedy, in a sublime performance, or in a brilliant script. Eterniday, a dance-theater piece written by the well-known collage playwright Chuck Mee (Charles L. Mee), directed and choreographed by Dan Safer, and presented at La Mama by Safer’s troupe Witness Relocation, left me with a feeling akin to what ancient revelers at a rite of spring might have felt: that I’d taken part in some ritual of abundance whose deeper meaning lay buried in the mists of a dead language no one understands anymore, but with its vital energy undiminished.
Witness Relocation in “Eterniday” at La MaMa E.T.C. – L-R: Saori Tsukada, Javier Perez and Vanessa Koppel. Photo by Adele Bossard
As suggested by the title, a conceit of time compression structures Eterniday. Stages of one full day play out over roughly an hour. Over the course of that day a history of human culture (and beyond) is touched upon and suggested, though never explicitly played out, through solo, duet, and ensemble dances; quiet monologues; and talks and discussions. The last are frequently rather sedate and formal, but one is an extended gabfest in which the whole group of eight performers chirps on and on about supposed parallels between Sophocles’ Philoctetes and the modern saga of Rihanna and Chris Brown.
That scene – or presentation, a word that better describes the segments of this collage of a show – is both its funniest element and the glue that best suggests a unity among the disparate parts. Behind some of the dances – which range from the abstract to the sensual to the aggressive, accompanied by well-chosen music from a variety of traditions, and capped off by a startling and joyous final surprise – a huge projected face (writer Carey Harrison, son of Rex) intones an account of various fantastical peoples who live in different Greek islands and distant lands. Both the content and the rhetorical style of this narrative recalls ancient writings (Herodotus, say) that described, with varying degrees of accuracy, the realities of the wide world for the benefit of the untravelled. (In one culture, “if the children are fat they are eaten right away.”)
Witness Relocation in “Eterniday” at La MaMa E.T.C. – Javier Perez. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation
There are other threads too: an idealized evocation of the life of an artist; the careful stepping over of nonsensical boundaries indicated by tape on the floor of the stage; and two courting couples whose stories unfold through dance and words. (“How do we find our way to one another?”) But there’s no overarching dramatic narrative, nor truly consistent theme – or if these exist, they went right over my head. Which not only didn’t prevent but enhanced my enjoyment of the show. In the realm of the abstract, it’s important to stay away from the pedagogic and the overly tendentious. Full success here. This delightful show – not really a play, nor entirely a dance piece – runs through April 21 at La Mama‘s Ellen Stewart Theatre. Visit the website or call 212-475-7710 for tickets.