In arts writing, the term "derivative" means a work has reiterated another artist's style without advancing it in a meaningful way. But hints throughout Derivatives, Anouk van Dijk's highlight of the International Choreographers Commissioning Program at the American Dance Festival, suggested a definition from an arena even more esoteric than the realm of modern dance. Think international finance instead. In that world, a derivative is a contract speculating on the future price of a commodity.
Judging by van Dijk's relentless choreography, the asset in question here is human labor.
Given the fervent protests that have dogged the recent meetings of the G-8 and the World Trade Organization over international environmental and labor standards, the market in human futures would appear to be wide open. And if what playwright José Rivera calls "the hoarding classes" believe it in their best interests to exploit the price of oil or grain, what makes a county, state or country full of factory workers--or computer technicians, for that matter--a bridge too far?
Since a breakneck work-pace is nothing new in sweatshops around the globe, van Dijk is merely extending and expanding historic practices into the future--in much the same way, on some level, as economic planners appear to be presently doing with international labor markets.
Thus the choreographer's forecast: Get those running shoes on. And practice rolling, like Huang Yi did in mid-performance, for the punches yet to come.
An overtly international cast suggests how much van Dijk believes we're all in the same boat. At the back left corner of a stage lit only by fluorescent work lights, JinJu Song moves forward in what appears to be stylish gym clothes from a standstill. Just as she seems about to break into a sprint, the sound of Tuxedomoon's processed strings cues her descent into slo-mo before freezing in mid-stride. From that point, 13 other dancers individually run in and out of view, as van Dijk's work slowly builds momentum. Her dancers orbit the stage and each other, joining in groups to have one actually run the exposed back wall of Reynolds Theater. Some stumble--but keep on.
The ensemble's collapses apparently must be as regimented as their productivity. Dancers briefly find the floor in sync with the one, relentless musical string motif. In an audacious move, Mr. Huang flips forward at one point, somehow managing to land his head with total grace in the lap of a sitting Ms. Song. Respite lasts a moment. Then everyone must go.
The only access to music on this stage is through a heavily filtered classical music CD--one that seems to keep sticking. Increasingly, it has to compete with low-grade AM talk radio, and the noise of a gasoline engine going into redline.
Ultimately all must join the line of people stretched across the stage from left to right, dancing jog steps, more or less in place, in fast, tight little circles. Afterward, Oscar Gutierrez and Maragda Pau Ganga practice disabling each other's various body parts by snapping their fingers, as if by remote control. As the end approaches, wave after desperate wave of dancers run toward the stage's edge, only to hit an invisible wall and fall back. A future variation on the old "glass ceiling"? Or perhaps just an enhancement of our current border patrols?
This precedes the visceral sounds at the conclusion, when an ensemble out of energy, options and time--or perhaps just clean air, food and water--keeps slamming the stage floor with their bodies, scrambling on all fours to get away from us, before the sudden, final silence.
In this futures market, the smart money seems to have one message: Sell. Quickly.
If all parts of Charlotte Griffin 's KR? were as accomplished as Niall Jones and Wen-Huai Chang 's evocative early duet, we'd likely have a masterpiece on our hands. We first saw Chang, dishrag limp, apparently hanging on by the thinnest threads in Jones' arms at front stage right. A strong--and seemingly final--image turned out to be the first in a slow, stage-wide segue reminiscent of Butoh. Small wonder we dubbed this entrancing part "the wilting ballet." Somehow--without seeming artificial or forced--Chang's character slowly mounted Jones' upper body into an improbable but still iconic position perched on top. By their journey's end, they'd defined life persisting, despite all, in someplace like the remote, mountainous southern Serbian territory composer Milica Paranosic offered as the title for Griffin's new work.
Though it must have been a nightmare to perform, we actually preferred the rawer textures of the unplanned, "unplugged" version of Ms. Paranosic's sound score when the electronics for her altered solo piano piece failed on July 19.
But in terms of choreography, no other section, including Griffin's mid-work solo, seemed nearly as organic, developed or coherent as the brilliant passage described above. Griffin has no shortage of ideas, but their sum ultimately made KR? seem more a road still being traveled than a destination ever reached. Though this rough mountain path occasionally afforded striking views into surrounding territories, the choreographer clearly still has further to go.
At concert's close, Indonesian choreographer Miroto Martinus reminded us that facades have powers all their own in the uneven sections of his Mask. After Bayla Gottesman and YoonJung Choi get a little too close to one of Melody Eggan 's painted disguises, it takes them--and us--through different episodes where different mask techniques are employed. Though the work did not always rise above the level of neat tricks, Kelley Lynn Natella 's initial solo employing masks on two feet--and two hands--kept surprising us, before a stageful of performers masked at all extremities overwhelmed Martinus and Choi, and us as well.
E-mail Byron Woods at email@example.com.