Reviewed by Adrienne Urbanski
Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." The answer, it seems, is to return to that world of limitless creativity, the place where real and imaginary merge. The place where societal boundaries don’t yet exist and you are still discovering and finding yourself within your body. 837 Venice Boulevard refers to choreographer Faye Driscoll’s childhood address, and the programs and promotional materials all boast a color photo of Faye and her sister standing in front of their Californian home. It’s a jump back in time with experimental dance.
837 opens with dancer Celia Rowlson-Hall singing a warbly, surreal song on the lost feeling of childhood, the feeling of when all you know and hold on to for safety has been ripped from you. As she sings she alternates between shadowboxing and twitching her head stiffly to one side, ending with a screaming refrain that she, like the members of the audience, are “waiting for the show.” What follows is an exploration of the body’s state in childhood. The twenty-something dancers all expertly capture both the awkwardness and freedom of this age, moving with flying, clumsy limbs from one side of the stage to the other, or, halting suddenly, trying to find their steps and falling in sync.
The show frequently makes use of a form of dance akin to puppetry where one or two dancers take control of another dancer’s body, choosing their movements for them. This method evokes a childhood sense of identity displacement. At one point, Rowlson-Hall is instructed that it is time for her big dance number, the moment she has been waiting for her entire life. She falls to the floor in terror, exclaiming that she isn’t ready, while the other two dancers take control of her small body, spinning her and making her leap across the floor. Later, this struggle turns sexual. Rowlson-Hall tempts to fight off the dancer Michael Helland; his hands reach between her legs while she struggles to push them away until their fists push back and forth. When she later seems to accept his advances and begins to lean in for a kiss, a third dancer interrupts them with a gift of glimmering pink and gold superhero capes. This thrusts them back into the safety of their childhood innocence.
Although each segment of the dance fully evokes childhood sensibility, many of them stretch far too long or leave the stage empty and quiet enough for the clicks and whirrs of the stage lights to become audible. As an audience we often have the feeling that we too are "waiting for the show”—waiting for it to begin, always expecting the show to switch gears and really start. This start never seems to fully arrive. Instead, 837 Venice Boulevard comes across as one long prelude. There's worthwhile material, but we get the sense that Driscoll and her dancers are capable of more, and that a great, more enthralling work is somewhere right around the bend.
837 Venice Boulevard (90 minutes no intermission)
Here Arts Center (145 Sixth Avenue)
Tickets (212-352-3101) $15
Performances through 11/22 @ 7:30pm