This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

10Jan/17

AMERICAN REALNESS: ÉTROITS SONT LES VAISSEAUX / COIL: CVRTAIN

Joanna Kotze and Lance Gries perform duet at Gibney Dance as part of American Realness festival

Joanna Kotze and Lance Gries perform Kimberly Bartosik / daela duet at Gibney Dance as part of American Realness festival

This past Saturday afternoon, I trudged through the snowstorm to Gallery 151 on West Eighteenth St. for the world premiere of Yehuda Duenyas’s CVRTAIN, a Coil festival commission. A red carpet was laid out for participants, a stark contrast to the white-covered streets outside. CVRTAIN, which continues through January 15, wasn’t quite what I expected, a fun but emotionally unnerving experience, part interactive theater, part virtual reality game. Upon entering the gallery, timed ticket holders (the cost is $10) are led to one of several closed-off areas, where an operator sets you up with a VR helmet and plastic hands with buttons. A red curtain slides aside, and you are suddenly standing alone on a stage, facing a large crowd at a Carnegie Hall–like venue ready to cheer you. Meanwhile, in actual reality, a red curtain has indeed opened, and whoever is in that section of the gallery can watch you in your getup. For several minutes, the crowd responds to almost every move you make, clapping, cheering, whistling, and even booing as you carry out “les gestes de reverence,” including sweeping your hands, bowing, curtsying, lifting your arms, and blowing kisses, each motion eliciting a different reaction from the virtual audience. There are also “mystery gestures,” so you’re encouraged to try just about anything. I’m not a performer, and perhaps I’m not as narcissistic as I thought, because rather quickly, I was uncomfortable. I hadn’t done anything to deserve this outburst of love and affection; in fact, I took to one of the mystery gestures that earned me raspberries instead. What was only about five minutes felt like an eternity, so I was relieved when the operator told me my time was up. Feeling a little shaken, I then saw how my actions registered on a computer; once I realized how many recommended gestures I had forgotten about and hadn’t done, I felt even worse, as if I had failed not only myself but the game and its creator. I walked back out into the snow, disappointed by my lame effort.

I had about an hour to get to Gibney Dance near City Hall, where I was going to see Kimberly Bartosik / daela’s American Realness presentation, the twenty-four-minute, fifty-second duet Étroits sont les Vaisseaux, inspired by Anselm Keifer’s eighty-two-foot-long undulating mixed-media installation on long-term view at MassMoca. The precise length of the dance relates to the lunar day, which lasts twenty-four hours and fifty minutes as the moon affects the tide. Bartosik and her husband and designer, Roderick Murray, opened the doors to the small Studio A space, where chairs and cushions were set up against part of the walls and in a corner, all cordoned off by zigzagging white tape on the floor, indicating that the audience, consisting of about forty people, should stay within that boundary, a far cry from the red carpet that welcomed me to CVRTAIN. The shade on the far side of the room, which faces Chambers St., came down electronically, sealing us inside. For nearly twenty-five minutes, the amazing Joanna Kotze and Lance Gries moved around the room, avoiding eye contact with the audience, even when hovering directly over them, the only sound at the start the rhythmic pattern of their breathing. Things were so still that if either of them suddenly ran quickly past, you could feel the rush of the breeze they left behind. Kotze and Gries performed an emotionally intimate dance, occasionally coming together and exploring each other’s bodies, as if curious, indefinable objects. Soon the lights slowly went down as a stormlike drone could be heard in the distance. The shade then began going back up, revealing the falling snow, which melded well with the soundtrack. Kotze and Gries remained standing in the middle of the room, close together, barely moving, as Bartosik opened the door and gestured for the crowd to begin exiting. As I walked out, I looked back at the two dancers, who were still performing in what was about to become an empty room. I went outside and stopped by the partially frosted window on Chambers St., peering into Studio A, where Kotze and Gries had at last finished. I peered in and clapped for the two of them, who had received no applause from a crowd that was clearly thrilled by their duet. Kotze saw me and smiled, giving me a double thumbs-up, and then Gries smiled too. No longer was I rattled or bothered by what had happened at Gallery 151. I was back where I belonged, in the audience, not onstage, celebrating someone else’s performance. My world had returned to order.

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