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Olive Prince’s ‘Serenade’BY: Jim Rutter 06.15.2009
In ten powerful minutes, Olive Prince’s erotic and psychologically perverse Serenade brought racing back some of the most painful (as well as some of the best) moments of my existence— moments that, like the intense experience watching her choreography, I wouldn’t replace for the life of me.
Serenade and once i lived in a cardboard portal. Choreography by Olive Prince. June 3-7, 2009 at nEW Festival 2009 Performance Program, University of the Arts Dance Theater at the Drake, 1512 Spruce St. www.newfestival.net.
The agony of a lopsided relationshipJIM RUTTER
When my sister and I were kids, my dad used to hold us on his knee and sing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” Did anyone hearing that song ever pause to think what it’s like to lose your “only sunshine”? Olive Prince’s overpowering Serenade made me feel just how devastating it must be. Her physically erotic and psychologically perverse ten-minute piece sustained itself with a manic intensity that was just short enough to endure.
Her piece opens on two dancers— Marie Brown and Lindsay Browning— wearing open-backed hospital gowns (only the insane feel too deeply) and humming the bars of “You are my sunshine.” They tug at each other before ripping apart to writhe on the ground before struggling vainly to lift each other up. In quick, harsh movements, Brown would come up behind Browning to caress, only to pull away angrily, each fighting to establish control by wrestling the other around the stage, then backing off in trepidation.
Moments of longing
The repeated portions— whether on the ground or moving across the stage— formed their own sense of the ritual routines that lie beneath every human relationship. In a series of near-misses, Prince’s dancers ran toward each other to kiss violently and passionately, displaying the heightened moments of longing that punch through the everyday habits of being with another.
Serenade shows the agony that some experience for years in lop-sided relationships. In ten minutes Prince brought racing back some of the most painful (as well as some of the best) moments of my existence— moments that, like the intense experience watching her choreography, I wouldn’t replace for the life of me. You watch a piece like this and feel yourself once more capable of a soul-wrenching, all-consuming emotion that chokes your heart in your chest.
A banal theme
So I struggled to watch Prince’s second piece, once i lived in a cardboard portal, which took a banal theme and rendered it too easily through an even more clichéd treatment.
If Prince can create something as devastating as Serenade, this college-sophomore theme is beneath her. Here, four dancers (Brown, Browning, Sara Stone-Bush and Hedy Wyland), enter wearing black suits with a coat hanger hoisting the sport coats above their necks to bury their heads inside. A series of 3 x 5 cards with pictures of toothy grins hang from strings at the back of the stage, and jostle in the air as the headless bodies stagger about in blind, searching movements tainted by a sick fragility.
Their hands thrust deep into pants pockets or gripping an imaginary handrail, they display the simple gestures seen on a subway car or waiting for a bus; later, their bodies shake to the train’s vibrations. Rolling or pivoting away from a touch, they rarely connect. Prince’s piece seeks to remind us of corporate uniformity’s isolation, or at least what she imagines it to be. Either way, she picks a too easy target. Why not just have the dancers wear green apples over their faces?
But it continues; with arms outstretched, these headless drones wait for some awakening, struggling to take off their jackets. Next, with the sport coats held in their mouths, each spits the garment out at the front of the stage, expectorating the work week as the garbled electronic music fades out, replaced now by string instruments.
Now liberated, three dancers move in unison while one searches—perhaps for meaning—in solitude, as if to indicate the only place one can find it. I couldn’t help wondering: What’s the purpose of art and dance, if not to communally express meaning? And so another disappointing choreographic parody of corporate America ends with the dancers clenching cardboard smiles between their teeth.
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