nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
September 18, 2010
Presented by Carrie Ahern Dance and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, conceived and directed by Ahern, and choreographed by Ahern in collaboration with Kelly Hayes, Jillian Hollis, David Figueroa, Donna Costello, and Elena Demyanenko, SeNSATE is described in its press material as "a site-specific dance installation." The LMCC is a great organization that among other things makes spaces available to artists, and art groups, and I had never seen The Vault space at 14 Wall Street.
I must say, the whole experience leading up to entering the building is very cool and surreal. It was a particularly beautiful late summer evening and the Wall Street area was lit with soft gold street lighting. People seemed calm and happy as they strolled down the narrow lanes, and there were just enough police around to make you feel safe while not being intrusive. Trinity Church was framed at the end of the street against a black sky, and it was weirdly like walking around a clean, lit up, architectural museum that happened to be outside. I strongly encourage those who haven't, to experience this part of the city at night.
No one else seemed to be entering the large glass doors at 14 Wall Street as I do, but a lovely lady standing outside assures me that I am in the right place. I proceed into a marble hall, again, weirdly free of humans, to a large desk, where another nice lady checks me in and tells me to go through turnstiles, round a few corners, and take the last elevator to Level B. The building still seems deserted, with only an occasional flyer stuck to the wall to let you know that you are still going in the right direction. Once downstairs two more very nice folks give me some hard copy materials and send me around another corner, where I enter another dark room with a cluster of tiny red lights to the side. The air pulsates with droning electrical tones and percussion sounds over a sound system. Through yet another door and I am in an expansive space with halls and doors that lead to rooms of different sizes.
Part of the fun with this installation is that the audience is free to move about at will, and leave and come back again if desired during the three-hour running time. Since I happen to be a choreographer with a touch of the ADD, this seems a match made in heaven. I see a large vault door swung open at the end of the hall and enter it to encounter other audience members standing around the sides of a smallish room, as a lone performer in what appears to be torn and paint-spattered toga drags an imaginary weight across the floor slowly in a square formation. This holds my interest for a few minutes and I find myself looking more at the other audience members' reactions than at the artist. I sense that this is part of the creative intent.
Getting antsy, off I go to explore. The space is huge. Two floors of varying spaces, and I hear there is a third floor that they didn't use. I pass a room filled with nothing but office chairs across the entire floor, and feel free to sit and spin for a moment. Onward to another very large room that holds a lone mock set-up of a dingy living room at one end, with a couch and lamp. I never saw any performance activity in this room while I was there, but did witness other observers making use of it to sit and chat with each other.
Heading down a metal staircase, I encounter another large room brimming with activity. The feeling down here is very apocalyptic. There are platforms (there is no one credited with set design, though Robert Mrozek is listed for set construction) of different heights and dimensions throughout the space and cloth pieces hang from the ceiling here and there, separating the space enough to provide different movement encounters to go on simultaneously. It is up to us where we go and what we watch. The artists' costumes by Naoko Nagata with their lost-boys-from-Peter-Pan look fit the desolate atmosphere, and the lighting design by Jay Ryan dims and brightens around the entire space creating a spooky additional dimension. The music is composed and performed live by Anne Hege who walks around and through the artists chanting, wailing, and moaning into a headset that sends the sound throughout the space. It's rather eerie, and all of the elements come together to complement that feeling.
The performers, Ahern, Donna Costello, David Figueroa, Kelly Hayes, Anne Hege, and Jillian Hollis seem to be perpetually off in corners alone, writhing or looking perplexed, or confronting each other violently in pairs or groups. I am lucky to be in the right room at the right time, and sit on the right chair (there are chairs positioned sporadically around the space) to see a segment with four dancers that lasts about 20 minutes. In this segment, the dancers slowly slither towards each other across an expanse of floor until they are clumped together, they then undulate as a clump for a while, before bursting apart and crawling away in one direction or another. The composer continues her chant-like contributions and the total effect is mesmerizing. I feel myself moved enough to gently pat one of the dancers on the head after she basically collapses at my feet.
I stayed for over an hour, taking breaks here and there, and the overall effect for me was satisfying. I must say that this installation is interesting, but I will only be recommending it to certain friends, as to me it seems more performance art than dance. Still...it is a unique experience.