New Works at The Tank: Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith

When the lights went out on Molly Leiber and Eleanor Smith’s Blanket Saturday night at The Tank, you could feel the collective “wow” coursing through the audience.  Quietly but undeniably expressive, Blanket was a work of absorbing beauty and unexpected power.

There were no interpretive notes or explanations in the program, but the title implications were clear in performance: connection, comfort, physical contact.  Separation anxiety.  Blurred boundaries of self—are we separate, or are we one?  Is a body whole, or a part?  The dancers were inextricable halves, whether actively touching, dancing in unison, or maintaining counterpoint while unable to see one another.

Equally essential to Blanket was another pair, musicians Aaron Harris and Yos Munro of the Brooklyn band Steel Phantoms.  Using silence, ambient electronic hums, wordless vocalization, shimmering percussion, claps, and bursts of full, toe-tapping and head-bobbing music, sound fit dance like a glove.  Harris and Munro’s connection to each other mirrored the dancers’ relationship, and they remained exquisitely attuned to the stage.

That stage bore sultry, casual bodies.  They began on opposite sides of the stage, slumped against the wall, but came together to pose.  Positions didn’t call attention to their own performativity, by quoting beauty pageants or dance technique manuals.  Instead, they made simple, pleasing shapes, interesting on their own but also loaded with shades of dependence—at once tender and uncomfortable.  When they separated, the space between them was charged with those tensions.  Their outstretched arms drifted toward each other without ever reaching directly.  When dancing together in a swell of sound, they moved as one.

I was repeatedly struck by their choreographic craft.  Meaning poured through the formalism, and action was nonchalant, neither pedestrian nor dancerly.  Gaze and focus for each body were brilliantly chosen.  Their movements were often loose at the joints, sculpted in their path through space, and totally engrossing.  My mind’s eye is still flooded with striking images: the back-to-back contrast of slumped plie and arched releve like yin and yang; one sweeping the other across the stage by her arms, as she twisted, legs glued like a mermaid, across the floor on her belly; stacked bodies rowing and pedaling; two straight backs, a foot apart, adjoined to circling arms that overlapped like teeth on gears; figures on opposite corners, making a micro-adjustment in sync (did anyone else see that??)

When they grabbed each others’ shoulders—a messy, lunged action—it felt extreme.  A raw emotional outburst in a dance otherwise restrained by suggestion.   Immediately it was tempered by repetition and form.  The dancers veered in diagonal, suspended in a needy, groping action that, failing to escalate, regained its essence as composition.  Dance with a capital D.

The carefully balanced dynamic had been shaken, though.  Soon after, one of the bodies just gave out, or gave up.  The other, with childlike denial and desperation, manipulated her like a ragdoll through the final passages.  It was funny (some laughed) but also sad, and scary.  Insistent on continuing, she looked frustrated by loss even while testing mischievous limits of the control she now exercised over the other’s actions.  Finally, a whisper into her ear brought the dancer faintly back (first her eyes opened, then she consented to the last simple movements).  This uneasy resurrection, pregnant with unanswered questions, ended the show.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Regarding the tiny slice of “stuff somebody cares about somewhere.”
    Because of your writing, I find I did!

    Reply

  2. […] Tracks in February.  Second, to Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith at the Tank, to whom I devoted an extensive post on this site.  They will perform at Movement Research at Judson Church on January 4.  Third, to […]

    Reply

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