Dances for Intimate Spaces and Friendly People: Dance review by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Patricia Hoffbauer splits her smart new piece, Dances for Intimate Spaces and Friendly People, into modules—two trios, a quartet and a duet. These are then dispersed across four studios and performed simultaneously; the audience too is divided, and we travel among studios with only a few minutes between performances. It’s an amusing, informal way to tour Gibney Dance's spaces while also cruising through Hoffbauer’s many-layered preoccupations. Yet even her thoughtful program notes fail to convey how smooth, in fact how seductive this approach turns out to be. Hoffbauer writes that she intends to “continue the exploration of multiple intersections investigated in my other work.” But the project also taps into her well-known sense of humor, as well as her imagination, so especially strong in visual imagery. She has invited us to come in, to sit down, to get comfy—yes—but then she doesn't make us that comfortable.
In Studio D, for instance, you first become aware of a few huge, pale-colored balloons taking up a bunch of space. One might slowly waft in your direction, obstructing your line of vision. It’s hard to see all three of the Black male dancers who happen to be there unless you step around this balloon or give it a little tap. (Why I, and no other person in my group, did not simply haul off and smack one away is a question that haunts me.) Meanwhile, dancers Jonathan Gonzalez, Kareem Alexander Hewitt and David Thomson fast-forward through the many ways Black bodies have been seen and interpreted, exploited and self-reclaimed, enacting gestures reminiscent of everything from protest marches to vogueing. “What the hell does this have to do with dance?,” Thomson exclaims at one point, voicing a not-uncommon opinion. Hoffbauer’s cheeky engagement with social issues has been a turn-off for dance purists and some critics. “We’re past all this,” Thomson adds. But we’re not, and a fleeting reference to Misty Copeland gets quickly followed by a dancer slumping to the floor: “Black Swan down!”
Dances for Intimate Spaces will be most remembered, inevitably, for its Studio B trio—Twyla Tharp superstars Sara Rudner and Jennifer Way Rawe, with Keith Sabado subbing for the injured Tom Rawe, another of Tharp’s storied generation. Silkily pawing through a light-footed soft-shoe routine, these beloved veterans are a joy to see. But Yvonne Rainer, the iconic iconoclast of dance, has been hidden in the audience; she gently crashes their nostalgia party and steals Sabado’s scarf. These games have a serious intent. Rainer and Hoffbauer are here to remind us: no art is made in isolation from its world.—Eva Yaa Asantewaa
At Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center. Choreographed by Patricia Hoffbauer. Text and dramaturgy by George Emilio Sanchez. 1hr 30mins. Through Sat 3. (Gallery exhibition runs through Fri 9.)