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Never has nihilism looked so good

By Wendy Perron

Dance Magazine, 18 April 2010

Never has nihilism looked so good. In two full-evening works, British choreographer Charlotte Vincent matched desperation and humor in equal measure. Her enormously appealing performers—both musicians and dancers—were clearly dissolute, but very alive. The set for Broken Chords, a piece about Vincent’s own divorce, was rows of chairs that got swept upstage in the course of the dance. The set for the newer If We Go On, in which Vincent’s desolation infiltrated the entire cast, was already a mess.


Broken Chords, the more cogent of the two, begins with each musician or dancer slowly making their way among the chairs. A woman finds comfort with another woman, a man with a man. Suddenly, once all eight performers have arrived, they tear around banging the chairs, now in hetero pairings. Odd things begin to happen. Luisa Lazzaro breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience, confessing how bad she feels. She aims a gun at the other performers and demands that they dance or sing or smile. One does flamenco, another (Alex Catona, who also wrote the haunting music) sings a Romanian folk song. Why is this terribly funny? Their forlorn expressions as they comply make the situation both sadder and funnier.

And still it gets more drastic. Violinist Patrycja Kujawska takes objects out of a suitcase that turn out to be accoutrements of suicide. She mimes slitting her wrists, suffocating herself, and drowning herself, but in such dreamy and imaginative ways that the effect is bewitching. Kip Johnson makes a hilarious effort to crash a contact improv-y duet between two men. Toward the end they have a free-for-all when they talk/dance/fight/confer/leap/party all at the same time.


If We Go On continued breaking chords with a post-suicidal, Beckettian, Rainerian script. The set: nine hanging light bulbs, nine chairs, two video monitors, and a back wall that resounds when a dancer crashes into it. It begins with a play on Yvonne Rainer’s “NO manifesto.” Kujawska, standing, intones, “No more partnering…no more lists…no to ballet…no to hugging.” Aurora Lubos, sitting, eggs Kujawska on and eventually erupts in a rage. This and other parts of the text were workshopped with the help of choreographer Wendy Houstoun. (I learned this when I moderated a pre-performance discussion with Vincent.) What came up was stubbornness all around. The dancers are plunged into Vincent’s spreading gloom—and share her silver lining of irony. Lines like “Tonight I’m lost”…“I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing”…“Who let us loose onstage?” reverberate in a void. One monologue is simply a litany women artists whom Vincent (or somebody) admires: Yvonne Rainer, Meredith Monk, Marina Abramović, Pina Bausch, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker…Dolly Parton. Just the ability to revere older artists offers a glimmer of optimism.

Perhaps the answer to how one goes on is breathing. In both pieces there is a moment when a single performer, utterly exhausted, submits to someone holding a microphone to amplify their panting. Somehow those urgent inhales and exhales hold our attention as much as any script or choreography.