nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
May 15, 2009
Leigh Evans's body and voice are marvelous, almost magical instruments. Some of the transformations she works with both in her solo show Traces almost defy description; they seem so hard to put into words that it's almost as if I dreamt them rather than watched them (much of the show, in fact, feels like a barely-grasped memory of a dream). Animal or insect sounds or bird calls change into and out of comprehensible fragments of language and curiously allusive vocal shapes that strive to evolve into specific words. The movements of her shoulder blades turn the plane of her back into an odd semblance of a face. Tiny changes in the position of a foot or leg play out over impossibly long periods of time.
The movement vocabulary in the piece draws on Butoh, a form of dance developed in post-World-War-II Japan; like Traces, Butoh is somewhat mysterious, difficult to define, and different from most other kinds of modern dance or performance. It's a visceral art form, centered in body movements at extremes: extremes of posture or position; extremes of extension or contortion; extremes of movement through time, speeding things up or more often slowing them down. For both dancer and audience, Butoh almost becomes a philosophical exploration of the meaning of dance and of the capabilities of the body as much as a performance. It's not choreographed in a traditional sense, with movements flowing into each other; rather, it evolves, slowly and contemplatively, from one shape to another.
Much of the vocal work in Traces seems to walk a similar borderline between being a pure exploration—what is singing? What is speech? How do we form words?—and being a tone poem of individual and loosely interconnected words: "intraspinal," "interwoven," "intervention" giving way to a long section of "interesting."
The show's tagline reads "The body is a map, a cellular map, a history of memory—personal, cultural, uncharted, and unseen," and the production's design picks up on the theme of mapping and charting, featuring long banners with drawings that mingle subway route diagrams with anatomical drawings of body segments. But where the drawings are very literal in illustrating an overlap of the external physical world and internal pathways, the show is more elliptical, more (logically enough) the traces of these journeys rather than the journeys themselves.
The piece's center section features a poem, written in tribute to Evans's mother (who passed away last year). The poem is about memory and loss, and calls on some of the images depicted throughout the rest of the piece: "memories embedded in the back of my heart between my shoulder blades," for example. While reciting, Evans slowly pours ash onto the stage in a long, deliberate spiral, a map and a trace of its own. This section is clearly the most concrete, the most emotionally accessible in a conventional way. But where I couldn't entirely explain to you how the rest of the piece, in its more abstract and elusive ways, works its emotional effects, it is a beautiful, meditative dreamscape.