Choreographer: Laura Peterson
Director: Laura Peterson
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
Choreographer Laura Peterson ruminates on the nature of winning and losing and the acquisition of material wealth as a symbol of success in her new dance installation Failure, running at Judson Memorial Church. Failure employs fragile sculpture and aerobic choreography to drive its ideas home.
Performed in the main chapel at Judson, Failure features a set of wood and paper sculptures. Four dancers (Laura Peterson, Jo-anne Lee, Jennifer Sydor, and Darin Wright) weave among the sculptures in the early movements of the piece, but eventually interact with them directly, first to dance with them, then to move them, then to destroy them. Following this destruction, the performers repeat an energetic dance combination in silence until it drives them, one by one, to exhaustion.
Failure is undeniably a carefully reasoned work. A review of Peterson’s 2009 work Forever comments that she tells her students, “Modern dance is modern art,” and that aesthetic carries over to her most recent venture. The wood and paper sculptures (by Peterson and Jon Pope) are reminiscent of the kind of abstract public art one sees outside of office buildings, making the connection to capitalism before dancers even set foot on stage.
Mary Jo Mecca’s costumes echo the shapes of the sculptures and feature gold accents that further reinforce a connection to material wealth. Much of the choreography calls to mind high-impact aerobics classes and old-school callisthenics drills – exercises that have an eventual goal of strength and fitness rather than movement for aesthetic or physical pleasure. The elements that compose this work are deliberate and carefully chosen.
That this work is so thoughtfully created makes the fact that it ultimately falls flat even more of a disappointment. Failure proves its thesis, but the artistic choices that support it function better in theory than in practice. The destruction of the sculptures is a bold move, but with splintered wood and exposed nails, one can’t help but be concerned for the performers’ physical safety (on opening night, one performer appeared to get injured during this sequence). The exhausting aerobic routine in silence that follows the smashing of the sculptures makes the mental and physical toll of success at any cost abundantly clear. At a point when the audience is almost certainly thinking, “Dear God, how much more,” one performer, gasping, rolls her eyes at her fellow dancers while she catches her breath; it’s clear she has the same thought. It’s a relief when the last dancer finally throws in the towel.
Failure certainly gives its audience much to think about after the lights go down, and in that, it succeeds in its goal. Unfortunately, there’s something self-congratulatory about the way in which it proves its points. Though the concept behind this performance is the stuff of important conversations, its execution makes for a mind-numbing evening of dance.
Runs until 1 July 2017 | Image: Stephen Delas Heras