Rated MA: PNB’s "3 by Dove" is for the Adults in the Audience
There’s a fake wholesomeness to classical performing arts that I’ve never quite understood. I’ve seen it at the opera, when older patrons complained about how a director “spoiled” a pretty aria by dramatizing the rape or murder that goes along with it. Similarly, all parents subscribe to the right to drag little girls in tutus to ballet, without glancing at the program–trained, perhaps, by ballet’s preference for the romances of Barbies & Kens. But this cheats the childless, for one, and parents themselves, for another, of the chance to deal with adult emotions and situations.
Ulysses Dove‘s “Serious Pleasures” is not for kids. Not much about PNB’s “3 by Dove” (through March 28) is. The suggested anal sex, fellatio, and masturbation aside, there’s a keening sexual anguish that pervades the work. It assumes that you’ve been there, and done…that…and that…and that. Maybe not that, but you’ve heard about it. From the opening, when Lucien Postlewaite as the Narrator, hooked onto two bars on the wall, unwinds himself and his kinked imagination, there’s space being made for an artistic perversity. The staging is by Parrish Maynard.
“No regrets, no retreats, no looking back,” Dove once said, but “Serious Pleasures” is precisely that look back–in this case, to the ’80s club scene, where as a sort of sexual Orpheus, the Narrator wanders among the shades of old passions and desires. (The ’80s had that effect on people–see Whit Stillman’s Last Days of Disco.) Louvered banks of dark gray doors burst or swing lazily open, revealing one tight, lithe body after another. Hair swirls in backlit cascades. Women pose as if in peep show booths. The music (Robert Ruggieri) is a pounding club beat. Men (Jordan Pacitti getting his satyr on) stot their way across the stage.
It’s not, actually, to shock. Dove interpolates some Balanchine technique to further show off the body erotic, but it only emphasize the leaky libidinal boats we all sail in. As Freud noted, if it’s not sex, it’s death, and underpinning the spectacle in this underworld of statuesque desire is a remorseful knowledge that it’s all already happened, already done. And the Narrator rewinds himself on the wall, restating Henry Miller’s “rosy crucifixion.”
“Red Angels,” featuring men and women in red, nothing-to-the-imagination, front-stitch outfits that manage to suggest both a strongman’s costume and a corset, brings the fabulous quartet of Arianna Lallone, Olivier Wevers, Lesley Rausch, and Lucien Postlewaite. Here the ghost of a “Balanchine show” is most present: at one point, dancers emerge from a red-carpet runway at the back of the stage. It’s almost Broadway, except for the Richard Einhorn-composed electric violin piece, “Maxwell’s Demon,” harshly bowed and blaring, chirruping. You just sit back and watch–it doesn’t demand much more of you than appreciation.
“Vespers,” which kicks things off, is making a return engagement. I first saw it at PNB this same time in 2008. On second viewing, Mikel Rouse’s percussive score is less startling, and the argument between two women in black dresses over an overdetermined chair, even more intriguing. There’s something spare and irreducible to this moment of feminine conflict, in which the chair takes the brunt of it. The second half, to my mind, loses something even as it gains in precision–the place of worship is never quite overthrown by women in ecstasy. There are a set of typed movements, repeated, spins and drops to the floor that should be alarmingly intense, rather than performed.
Victor Quijada‘s “Suspension of Disbelief” I half-liked–it opens with scrims and drops flying up and out, to expose the backstage area, the dancers in day clothes. Their interactions pivot off the point where an arm and leg meet, or two torsos. And it’s not just that the movement extends from a hand pushing a shoulder, rippling through, but that you’re quickly trained to take these points of contact as your focus. It’s disorienting–you start to lose your sense of a discrete body, and see instead agglomerations taking shape and peeling apart.
However, this ends, and a hip hop story takes place involving a world where zombie b-boys are in somewhat petulant conflict with the women of the J Crew crew. At one point the b-boys fall to the floor in front of the women and beseech their womanly shins in a very emo way, but the J Crew crew shake their heads, Oh hell no. Then the women fall on the floor and stretch out a little suggestively, but the zombie b-boys are all, Floor’s clear–dance break! and miss their chance. This does not improve the mood of the J Crew crew, despite their soft earth-toned apparel, and the diss is never really healed.