Mikhail Baryshnikov in Man in a Case
The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
Performances through May 10, 2014
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT MAY 2014
What is a review of a stage production retooling a pair of Chekhov stories -- and starring a dancer who does not really dance anymore -- doing in a contemporary art magazine? The answer contains in itself an account of the production’s finest points; for it is precisely its deployment of multimedia, the influences of installation art on its production design, and the privileging of movement-based performance-art throughout the production that are its most fascinating attributes. Allow us to stipulate that the entire cast of Man in a Case, including and especially Mr. Baryshnikov, gave powerful and pitch-perfect rendition of the volatile, pensive, evocative, and witty text. These are all exceptionally talented actors. Yet still, what is most unexpected, delightful -- and what makes it worth considering from an art point of view -- is its avant-garde visual profile. The innovative inclusion of on-stage cameras, pre-recorded projection and embedded video elements, as well as the frequent use of both folk-dance and more abstract movement elements blending dance with a more poetic take on what choreography can do.
The multimedia was subtly conceived in the Wooster Group model, wherein the fourth wall and spatial illusion of the stage are quietly shattered, introducing a stimulating surrealism through a technological framework that both enhances and undermines the linearity of the conventional action. The movement invoked in the tradition of the emotional, quirky, and intellectually rigorous work being done in the 60’s and 70’s, in the Judson Memorial Church-style ultra-modern performative, pedestrian, movement sphere. In fact, Baryshnikov has worked with the Judson Church people in the past, and his obvious embrace of the potentiality for movement beyond the traditional realm of dance as a discrete genre is on full display in Man in a Case. The several passages in which he executes movements both alone, in a pair, and as part of a group, are often concurrent with but physically removed from the dialogue. But they are so much more than tangents -- they move the story, and at every support do the job of the writer and the actors in expressing the salient dynamics of the narrative. In fact, movement in the play often reaches into nuanced, paradoxical emotional places that words and pictures cannot. And therein lies the joy at the heart of the otherwise melancholy allegory of Chekhov’s stories, which are of course tales of longing, fear, and needless suffering that like so much of that great author’s oeuvre, are intimate and archetypal, poetic and political, disguising national disgrace as a love story. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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