Garden of Earthly Delights
Mon Nov 24 2008
Photographs: Richard Finkelstein
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Hieronymus Bosch’s teeming, hallucinatory triptych on Eden, fleshly pleasures and damnation, The Garden of Earthly Delights (1503–04), inspired Martha Clarke’s dance-theater hit of 1984. And although its unitards, aerial stunts and liberal use of didgeridoo mark it as a piece of 1980s dance theater, perhaps Garden will, in turn, inspire young artists. Regardless, newbies and nostalgists can both welcome the return of Clarke’s stark, luscious phantasmagoria—equal parts erotic rapture, comic grotesque and kinetic terror.
The fact that this hour-long suite of theatricalized dances (accompanied by Richard Peaslee’s minimalist-folk music) features a troupe of attractive performers in semitransparent flesh-toned unitards doesn’t hurt, of course. Despite Garden’s implication that a life spent in pursuit of gratification will end in eternal, tormenting hellfire, it’s a solid date play: sensual, visually sumptuous and—take note, fellas—classy.
Given the abundance of nudes that appear frolicking (or being roasted alive) in the original canvas, Clarke bases much of her choreographic vocabulary on male-female duets, with one sex manipulating the other’s body—as when women stand on men’s bodies as if they were small barks, punting along with long, gnarled branches. The boundaries between human flesh and objects are often blurred: In one humorous bit, men hold rattle sticks at their crotches and shake them with priapic insistence. Like much in this remarkable assemblage, the gesture is sexy, silly, and a bit scary.