sneak up on you: Gallim Dance at Jacob’s Pillow.
Pillow, Doris Duke Theatre, Becket, Mass., July 11
Much of Andrea Miller’s hour-long Blush, performed
at Jacob’s Pillow last week by her New York City-based group
Gallim Dance, feels familiarly unremarkable. It’s easy to
be suspicious of contemporary dances like this one, merging
the stylish and awkward, usually in favor of the more-flattering
former. Besides, for the piece’s first three- quarters, little
of great note happens. In its final section, though, Blush
made a gut-wrenching about-face, a change strong enough to
recast everything before it as memorable, unfamiliar, even
A single male dancer, moving in and out of a large square
of white tape on the floor, opens the work. He moves slowly,
in a heavy funk. Covered entirely in a thick white paste,
and moving through theatrical fog, he has the vaporous presence
of a ghost or a very old man. The music shifts to one of Blush’s
many indistinguishable contemporary compositions, and more
dancers arrive, including three evil- looking ballerina-types.
The three men, bare-chested, wear black bloomers, each with
a giant Pilgrim-style buckle at center. All dancers are covered
in the white paste, with lips and eyelids left red and raw.
When anyone slides on the floor, friction scrapes away the
paste to reveal fleshy, contrasting skin. Those rosy sores,
and the general gloom, made me think of zombies.
images are rich and inscrutable at once. The dancers muscle
around, hurling themselves into the air and each other, seemingly
trapped in a state of emotional cave-dwelling. Their pent-up
limbs barely extend. Nobody enjoys any interpersonal contact.
The strongly graphic poses repeatedly recalled cave paintings,
with their emphasis on brute, two-dimensional physique. During
one of two lovely works for solo piano by Chopin, a few movement
elements stood out. Once, a dancer bit her knee in frustration,
and another did a fancy-stepping chorus-girl’s solo, in hopes
of impressing a man. And that guy’s set of peculiar bent-legged
jumps deserves description. He jumped up high with one leg
to the front and one to the back, with the sole of his front
foot slap-kicking the front of the thigh behind. It was hard
to tell where the slapping sound was coming from.
For much of these sections, given the high-energy, portentous
gloom, something seemed forever about to happen. When each
new section passed without making good on that promise—with
nothing to sink my belief into—Blush lost its energy.
It was especially disappointing when the dancers, in the absence
of substance, just glared their scary zombie-faces at the
audience. Vinny Vigilante’s handsome lighting repeatedly resisted
defining much of the action.
Later, there was an acrobatic male duet to Arvo Pärt’s damnably
beautiful string work Fratres, which has, since its
creation, been catnip for seemingly every fifth choreographer.
The work’s attenuated violins certainly complement Miller’s
longing, with bodies that are both subtle and primal, but
wasn’t there another (ideally shorter) work to fit the bill?
Sexuality soon grew overt here: One man mounted his partner
from behind, maybe quoting classical vases, then they had
a good wrassle. One climbed on top of his partner and, covering
that man’s eyes, shouted out directional commands. At another
point, one repeatedly bent his head low into the other’s crotch.
So, late in the game, it’s startling when all of that muggy
frustration turns out to have been a preamble to something
quite the opposite. When the shift comes, it’s as if the cave-dwellers
turn out, in retrospect, to have civil minds, and their ape-like
acrobatics reveal (in memory) the human subtlety that Miller
knew (but we didn’t know) was there all along.
Anyway, this monumental change happened precisely when the
music shifted, this time to the massive Wolf Parade song,
“I’ll Believe in Anything.” Holy crap, did this song look
good. Searing waves of melody rush ahead of its simmering
percussion, and it’s powerful enough that to keep any steps
noticeable in the din would seem impossible. But Miller did
it. She has her dancers gulping up space, putting out as much
energy as the towering song puts out. You want to shout, “They’re
doing it! They’re finally doing it!” From the stage’s rear,
rows of gold bulbs threatened to blind us; the music cast
the option of deafness around the small theater; everything
felt as it should. The singer addresses his need for someone’s
eyes, for sunshine, and for “your blood, your bones, your
voice, and your ghost.” Chills traced my spine. But suddenly,
the dancers donned cheesy grins like they were in one of those
old Gap commercials, very much out of nowhere. Hey, that was
too easy! Like, if a happy song was all they needed, why didn’t
they just play that song sooner?
That led to the work’s abrupt concluding moment, still in
Wolf Parade’s storm: one of the women peels up the square
of white tape from the floor, happily leading her happy mates
like the Pied Piper into the resulting empty space, tape curling
in trails around her. Of course, we didn’t know it was the
tape’s presence that stifled them in the first place. But
what a lovely, unanticipated image. It all made sense in the