Space is both an inspiration and one that provides parameters to force/collision, a collective of multi-disciplinary artists. The found space of The Yards Park Canal creates a fitting backdrop and also character, one which “speaks” about war and the sea, separation and loss in the company’s newest dance-movement-theatre work, The Nautical Yards.
A sloping field of green grass, criss-crossed with diagonal white sidewalks. A large shallow pool with a waterfall at one end. At the other, a silver slinky of a pedestrian overpass. Beyond, the water, beckoning like the open sea. All around are buildings, some of them magnificent dinosaurs abandoned, of a once vibrant naval presence on Washington’s waterfront.
The Nautical Yards has been a joint venture with choreographer Erica Rebollar and Rebollar Dance. Together with director John Moletress, the team has created a performance art work that unfolds slowly in a series of scenes or rituals. Each section brings our focus to the many symbolic roles of water.
Moletress maintains a clear sense of building a work through a montage of visual movement. He sidesteps the aid of a traditional linear drama form but never lets the piece stray into over-intellectualized abstraction. He is supported by composer Daniel Paul Lawson, who often layers steel and mechanical sounds as percussion over lush strings and cinematic war soundtracks. The creative team successfully allows images to pile up and resonate as they will.
Because, in the audience, we are creatures mostly who want to “make sense” of images, these are my interpretations. Lovers part and are blown, like the balloons they carry, across the water from each other. A chorus of female dancers are drawn, like a herd of animals or flock of birds to a water hole at dusk to witness such watery gatherings as places of life and death. Men charge crazed and unheeding across the pool, after a little red paper boat is “seized” from one of them and carried away, despite the women who attempt to pull them back from unnecessary disaster. The abandoned women stagger, fall into each other’s arms, and nearly drown in their sorrow but are pulled up by other women and “sustained.” Over a babble of recorded words representing wartime correspondence, sheets of paper fall and scatter, pages of which are grabbed and pressed against women’s bodies but others are left to float and sink. Bodies are carried back from war and washed clean in preparation for burial. Some men return to loved ones but can no longer stand unaided.
The movement vocabulary of the performance is an interesting blend of forms.
Strong bare legs and the way feet plant themselves in the grass or flick then pull through water remind me of the Pina Bausch Company and that company’s use and attention to the elements. Sylvana Christopher blends perky show steps and jazz in a strong solo. African dance is also integrated. At the end, there seemed to be the current obligatory aerial event with long sashes that Cirque du Soleil has made famous but was to my mind the least original and essential to the piece.
The most powerful dancer of the evening, Dane Figueroa Eddi, performed “The Dance of Yemaya,” which starts with what might have been a shiver (which we were all feeling by this time with the sun setting and the breeze rising off the water.) Then he began to conjure part Judith Jamison and part trance dance from Africa. The dance evoked an outpouring cry for death and the dying caused by war. The quartet that surrounded him and joined in made the work into a central symbol of universal keening, bringing to my mind the famous Irish play, Riders to the Sea by John Millington Synge (also a work about women whose men are taken by the sea.) Dane is a magnificent and expressive dancer; his extensions push through air to reclaim ever greater space while his torso isolations are clean and rippling. Eddi also sings at the beginning and at the end of the evening, dressed as a “goddess,” the program tells us, though whether of war or voodoo priestess I wasn’t sure.
Special mention must be given of the courage and stamina of all these performers. In what started as a brisk and breezy afternoon, by the time the sun was setting and the bodies were soaked through, temperatures had plunged to low forties with an additional windchill factor. Never did these dancers waiver from what had been asked of them. The extreme chill only added to the drama of the piece and our awareness of the sadness and fragility of human flesh against the elements on air and sea.
Meanwhile, the open-air site provided us serendipitous glimpses of life and even moments of “snatched” happiness on earth throughout the evening. A passerby, walking his spunky trotting terrier, cuts across the sidewalks. A little girl bounces a big beach ball on the grass and claps her hands as it rolls down. A team of serious bicyclists, riding by on the bridge at the climax of the show, pause, get drawn in, and watch, watching them watching the show. Even a duck flies down and lands on the water just beyond the bridge and seems to settle and take in the curious goings on. The military oblige us with periodic flyovers of helicopters. All become part of the show.
I walked to my car feeling satisfied and strangely teary by having seen something odd but brave and moving that was communicating to us something about being human, and, in its expression, bringing life to a spot in Washington that has been long emptied and neglected. Isn’t this what theatre is meant to do?
The last performance is Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 7pm.
The play will take place on The Yards Park on the Washington Navy Yard, 10 Water Street SE, Washington, DC. The Yards Park is accessible by public transportation – 2 blocks south of the Navy Yard metro station (Green Line) or by bus. There are several pay parking lots located at The Yards Park as well as street parking. Door to door directions.
Tickets to The Nautical Yards are $30 for premium seating, but you can watch it for free if you want to sit on the lawn. For reservations, click here.
The Nautical Yards
Directed by John Moletress
Composed by Daniel Paul Lawson
Choreography by Erica Rebollar with ensemble choreography by Ilana Faye Silvertsein
Produced by force/collision and Rebollar Dance
Reviewed by Susan Galbraith
Running time: 60 minutes over sunset without intermission