For Movement Research, a Time to Cast a Wide Net Over Disciplines and Countries

By Gia Kourlas
Originally published in The New York Times, June 7, 2008

It’s that time of year when Europe is flooded with festivals that dwell on more than new choreography and try, through theoretical discussion, to relate dance to larger issues about the body and the art form’s place in the world. The spring festival of Movement Research is a scrappier version of that model; organized by artists, it gives those in the New York dance world a chance to stop complaining about the lack of discourse and do something about it.

Movement Research’s budget for the festival is a pittance: $10,000, including stage rental fees, equipment and curator fees. This year’s installment, “Somewhere Out There,” aims wide; as the members of its curatorial team, Milka Djordjevich, Jeff Larson, Chris Peck and Anna Sperber, note in a mission statement, a goal in casting such a broad net is “to discover what sort of strange gooey crystal may precipitate.”

Penetrating the two-week festival is indeed gooey business, partly because of the disparate backgrounds of its curators. In selecting the group, Barbara Bryan, the executive director of Movement Research, purposely chose artists from different parts of the contemporary dance world. While Ms. Djordjevich and Ms. Sperber are dancers and choreographers, Mr. Larson works largely in technical and design realms (although he has of late begun to dance), and Mr. Peck is a composer.

“Somewhere Out There” also refers, in part, to the way a younger generation of dance artists have begun to branch out as curators, formatting performance programs like those organized by Mr. Larson and Andrew Dinwiddie and by Mr. Peck and Chase Granoff. Nowadays there is an unwritten motto, as one participant said in a festival discussion: “If you want to see something, make it happen. Do it.”Mr. Peck for his part presented an intriguing doubleheader on Tuesday night at Judson Memorial Church, including “Dance for Music,” which reversed the usual dancer-composer relationship by giving musicians the choice of collaborators. Even though it produced only one memorable act — the musicians Nate Wooley and Newton Armstrong played instruments behind a closed door that Jennifer Mesch flew out of — its potential holds promise.

Later that night, Fritz Welch’s “humansacrifice presents reverse futility in the immediate landscape” produced a chaotic mash-up of dancers, musicians and audience members. Mr. Welch’s living installation — ludicrous, messy, frustrating and funny — was a visual reduction of the festival’s theme of cross-pollination. After nearly two hours — and many exhausted pleas of “Where’s Paige?” from the audience — the work subsided with a trio by Paige Martin that featured three topless women falling to their knees and expelling a ritualistic gasp.

Last Sunday, JM Leary and Liliana Dirks-Goodman hosted “Populous by AUNTS,” which refers to a collective of young artists dedicated to creating spontaneous performance situations. In an hourlong program, nine works were shown simultaneously in designated areas of the Office Ops rooftop in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

During a rosy dusk (it was as if the viewer had suddenly stumbled into a Maxfield Parrish painting), artists staged performance pieces: a range of lazy, self-indulgent, overly ironic and captivating. In Michael Mahalchick’s “Disappearer,” Luciana Achugar, with her eyes closed, stood, arms lifted on either side of her body, on a one-and-a-half-foot dome. At the end of the hour she crumpled onto the roof, as if the air filling her up had suddenly escaped.

Even when caught in glimpses, Melanie Maar’s “Sisyphus’s Desire” was tantalizing. Straddling two raised units on the roof, she gradually pulled up her skirt and pushed, until a white jade egg popped out of her vagina.

Few witnessed the action, which occurred in a split second near the end of the program; much of the social, party-seeking crowd had turned its attention to wine and beer. But at the same moment Julius Deutschbauer, an Austrian artist, walked through the crowd with a box strapped to his waist that let loose a stream of expletives. (“He must be from Berlin,” a young man said, before resuming his conversation.)

The voices were taken from Mr. Deutschbauer’s project “Insult Arena,” a sound installation that recreates taunts shouted at sporting events. As a participant in the festival’s “Transversality Lab: An Austrian/NYC Exchange,” Mr. Deutschbauer performed the witty “Lonesome Drunkard to the Trans on Duty” at Judson Church on Monday.

In that piece, he posed questions about the relevance of “transversality,” a theoretical term that loosely describes the intersection of art and politics, while offering a portrait of a lonely artist. The five-hour event incorporated talks by the theorists Gerald Raunig and Jenn Joy as well as performances by artists based in Austria and New York. The only rule was a 30-minute time limit.

During the evening, the New York collective Eagle Ager presented “(%),” which transformed the stage into something resembling debris as its members exuded a strange mixture of cheerful obstinacy. Akos Hargitay, representing half of the Austro-Hungarian collective Company Two in One, performed a cloying, text-heavy solo that paid homage to his Judson heroes.

And the only positive thing to say about Matsune & Subal, a duo based in Vienna, is that their piece, patronizing as it was, created a disruption. For it, they gathered men, who seemed to be homeless, from Washington Square Park and took them into Judson Church while artists asked the audience for money.

The highlight of this laboratory experiment, which sadly was sparsely attended, was “united sorry in New York: a remix of old work with new intentions, missing my partner.” Robert Steijn, performing without his frequent collaborator, Frans Poelstra (who didn’t make the trip), appeared onstage with his head covered in a piece of black lace, like a widow in mourning, his arms stretched high above his head.

A tall, imposing man with long hair and a scruffy beard who nevertheless moves with gentle, fragile grace, Mr. Steijn swiveled his hips, crashing onto the floor and rising repeatedly, muttering: “Frans always loves a lot of floor work, unfortunately. Floor work makes me always very sad.” Humor and pathos filled this solo with a startling resonance and seemed to obliterate the festival’s youthful bent. Mr. Steijn is not a young man; his presence signified that imagination isn’t owned by any generation.

“Somewhere Out There” continues through Sunday at various locations; (212) 598-0551,