Buglisi/Foreman Dance

'Scene 1: Pollen in the Air,' 'Suite; Arms Around Me,' 'Blue Cathedral,' 'Lisa D.,' and 'Requiem'

by S.E. Arnold

July 24-27, 2003 -- Doris Duke Theater at Jacob's Pillow, MA

For their second appearance in the Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob's Pillow, Buglisi/Foreman Dance presented a concert of five works: "Scene 1: Pollen in the Air," "Suite; Arms Around Me," "Blue Cathedral," "Lisa D.," and "Requiem." As if in sympathy with the concert's nocturne mood a stunning sight greeted the audience following the late afternoon performance. Outside the theatre the golden sidelong light of the setting sun wove haunting shapes of shadow and mist across the great crush and crease of the Berkshire's fabric of stone, and in one's contemplative fancy this visual serenade met the Buglisi and Foreman works in even measure.

In a sense, the first section of Jacqulyn Buglisi's humorous look at human mating habits, "Scene 1: Pollen in the Air (A Romantic Scene in the Park)," prepared one for the somber works, "Suite; Arms Around Me," "Blue Cathedral," and "Requiem," that followed. Set on two male and female couples, the ladies' costumes suggest the exposed, yet abundantly draped style of richly colored material worn by women in the 16th century. The piece rushes into action on the familiar opening theme from the first movement of Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" with hilarious punning of love's urge--the pollen in the air-- as fated sounds: the bright side of a rising melody that must ultimately expire in a decent of melting steps. And, if one missed the point made by this opening of Scene 1, that love's urge is a dance with death, then the use of "Valse triste" in this three-part work (that also excerpted a piano piece by Schumann), makes the point again. Recall, "Valse triste" is incidental music Sibelius composed for a play titled "Kuolema" (Death). In this play, Death appears to a dying woman as her deceased husband, and as they waltz together Death takes her.

Similarly, "Save the Last Dance for Me," as rendered by composer Josh Haden informs the four waltzing couples in "Last Call," the third in a suite of three pieces that form "Suite; Arms Around Me," choreographed and danced by Donlin Foreman. As the darkness that closes "Last Call" drew near, the ostinato figure established by Foreman and Helen Hansen slowly waltzing, as three other couples, each lost to their partners, spin contrapuntally around them, generated an image of yearning and resignation that synopsized the grander forever waltz of Love with Death.

"Blue Cathedral," choreographed by Buglisi, and "Lisa D.," choreographed by Foreman, oppose each other both in dance styles and intellectual emphasis. Set on six female dancers to a score composed by Jennifer Higdon, "Blue Cathedral" is as enigmatic as the work by Magritte, "Song of the Violet," that inspired it. Although, the movement reminded one of the sweep and stretch of Graham's "Diversion of Angels," it was nevertheless the text that meant to guide the viewer through the work's mysteries that one found more intriguing. Ideas such as, "natural forms became metaphysical symbols of healing, as our human condition continues to struggle with reality," seem as baffling as Magritte. However, using the interpretive grid presently in use-- that love's urge is death's grin-- to plot its meaning, then one locates the ever moving senses of the phrases "metaphysical symbols of healing," "human condition," and the "struggle with reality" as they intersect on a particularly doleful point. And that is, "that life, if not a fever, then it is at least a 'sneeze of matter,' perhaps it's an allergic reaction to 'dusty death.' More importantly, however, this allergic condition has a cure."

"Lisa D." abruptly changes the subject. Set on two female and two male dancers with music composed by Lisa DeSpain for string quartet, the piece uses jazzy references in the music and in the dance and conventions of jazz and tap, including broad grins and interactions between dancers. These details nevertheless suggest a "human condition" lighter in texture and lower in bulk density than the concrete figures of Magritte's "Song of the Violet," yet more substantial than the airy structures of a sky "Blue Cathedral."

The abundance of inter-textual references of "Requiem," choreographed by Buglisi to the eponymous work by Faure offered viewers a bountiful, even if melancholy, harvest of contemplative and aesthetic pleasures. Set on five female dancers, the piece begins gently in mist and darkness with ethereal rays of light softly articulating the Baroque riot of boughs and folds, and sweeps of pale gold draperies that costume them. Arrayed in a V-shape viewed from the open end, five cubes served the dancers as bench or sculptural base or boundary. In fact, through the elevation of the dancers, whether by sitting or standing, or on the floor, moving between the V of cubes, Buglisi visually marked the seven sections of the Requiem music.

Moreover, at the very center of the piece, Buglisi fits an image that combined the calming mid-range soprano voice, the Requiem's prayerful text, and an intense sidelight that gilded the dancers' care-filled pose and highlighted the mellifluous volumes of drapery, whose crush and crease empathized with the care of the text and the dancer's pose into heart-stopping effect. And in the final moments of "Requiem," the dancers stretched to full height upon their cubes, and with their backs to the audience, slowly melted in a sustained posture of ecstasy and death into a mound of gold.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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