Director and Choreographer: Dan Safer
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
Witness Relocation brought Surveys the Prairie of Your Room, their first full-length duet, to the La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival this past weekend. The Witness Relocation website describes the dance piece as “A duet about when things could go in any number of directions and you’re not quite sure which one is right. Things that happen in liminal spaces. ASMR recordings. Trying to be happy when everything has gone to hell. Dancing.” Witness Relocation Artistic Director Dan Safer directs and choreographs the bare-bones production, which he performs with Ae Andreas in the foyer of the Ellen Stewart Theatre. It features music from composer Heather Christian and text from playwright Kate Scelsa.
The show opens with a dancer in a suit (Ae Andreas) sitting in an aluminum chair. As a cover of Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” plays, they perform a series of fluid movements that all engage the chair in some way. As they dance with the chair, another dancer in a similar suit (Dan Safer) enters. The two performers dance together, sometimes mirroring one another’s movements and very often using one another’s bodies as the first dancer did the chair in the beginning—they lift and spin one another; sit, stand, roll over one another. Occasionally they drop one another like so much dead weight. The music shifts from the Johnny Cash cover to more ethereal sounds to a voice-over of a woman (Grace McLean) welcoming a new guest to a luxury hotel. The voice reads an exhaustive pillow menu, offers bedtime reading suggestions that won’t excite the listener, and eventually starts to read a listing of local attractions. The dancers continue their duet, only rarely breaking contact with one another, until Dan Safer performs the series of movements with the chair that Ae Andreas opened the performance with.
Surveys the Prairie of Your Room is a visually and aurally compelling work that’s difficult to describe. Dan Safer and Ae Andreas move beautifully together, carrying us through a range of emotions. One the rare occasions that one of them leaves the stage, their absence is palpable; we grow so accustomed to seeing them in contact that it feels strange when they aren’t. When Safer performs Andreas’s chair dance at the end, there is a real sense of grief and loss. Loss and longing don’t dominate the piece, though. There are quite a few moments of levity, in both the movement and in Kate Scelsa’s text. Grace McLean’s performance of Scelsa’s work perfectly channels the even, soothing tones of an ASMR recording through a filter of capitalism—she reminds us that this will all go on he credit card on file in the same voice that she warns against smelling the lotion before bed. (It smells great, but it might excite you and make it hard to sleep.)
Liminal spaces are one of the elements mentioned in the description of the work, and the choice to stage this piece in the foyer of the Ellen Stewart Theatre rather than on the stage drives that home. The space has no seating; audience members are encouraged to sit on the floor, stand, set up a folding chair wherever they’d like or make themselves comfortable on the stairs on either side of the room. The space feels more casual and far more intimate than a traditional performance space would. At less than an hour, this dance piece is fairly short, but it feels like just the right amount of time. Surveys the Prairie of Your Room is a lovely work that has the potential to change dramatically in every new space.
Reviewed on 19 May 2019 | Photo Credit: Maria Baranova