Crystal Pite's hypertextual mindscapes
It has been a while since one of Crystal Pite's powerful "homegrown" evening-length productions graced New York City's stages. In addition to various external commissions, Pite makes work with her Vancouver-based company, Kidd Pivot. It was a delight, then, to at least have a bit of a refresher course on this prolific dancemaker's incisive choreographic language by the virtue of three short works presented in March as part of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's season at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
March 12 – 17, 2019
The evening's first work, A Picture of You Falling, was an appropriate opening act; pieces in this program originally date to the late '00s to early '10s, and this first work eloquently showcased many of the trademark features of Pite's earlier choreographic oeuvre—the rigorously precise, quicksilver movement, lightning-fast changes, dramatic audio-visual landscapes, and fractalized dramaturgy. Enveloped in diffused smoke, and sculptural lighting, the cinematic duet was set to an ominous, noir-like voiceover: an internal monologue of a woman attempting to remember a powerful (but also traumatic) encounter from the past. The choreography reflected a mind feverishly attempting to recall what actually may have happened by assembling and disassembling a vertiginous array of variations on the same event. Of all the works in the program, A Picture…, in my estimation, was the one that found the perfect Pite pitch; rigorously executed by Jacqueline Burnett and Elliot Hammans, the work eschewed easy answers and left the narrative enveloped in a mystery that burrowed itself in the viewer's imagination well after the final blackout.
The ensuing duet, The Other You, presented another take on the Jungian psychology; an invisible puppet-master maneuvers twin-like dancers through an exacting sequence of possible iterations of the same relationship. While the mirroring movement initially felt like an all-too-familiar theatrical trope, Pite's choreography, thankfully, quickly transitioned into a much more ambiguous terrain, blurring the lines between who is manipulating whom, and which one of the two dancers may be the "original" and which one the shadow. Akin to the evening's first piece, Pite invites the ambiguity and indeed favors it over easily explicable binaries. Much like in a Greek tragedy, The Other You questioned the degree to which our own sense of agency falters to external forces.
Finally, Grace Engine provided Pite with an opportunity to widen her choreographic palate, working with an ensemble instead of focusing on a single relationship (or, I would argue, one's relationship to oneself.) Encased in a repetitive urban-noise soundscape, and dominated by flickering stripe of overhead fluorescent tubes, this work felt like a deep dive into the collective unconscious, dealing with the modern-day existence. The piece's visual imprint read as a heavily sampled, stop-motion video, ebbing and flowing between Pite's DJ'ing of the ensemble at a breakneck speed, and sections of sustained, lyrical movement, or even stillness. While such "rubber band movement" (as I like to call it) was often exhilarating to watch, the ensemble struggled to cohere into a unified whole that I suspect Pite had envisioned. To be clear, there was plenty of talent on display in Hubbard's rendition of Grace Engine (which Pite originally set on the now-defunct Cedar Lake ensemble); it simply did not quite match the rigor of the evening's opening duet.
Overall, I felt that the program was an engaging reminder of an earlier phase of Crystal Pite's oeuvre. The dancemaker's early exploration of choreographic and dramaturgical tools have in recent works given way to highly theatrical spectacles with a significant presence of text—such as her stunning Betroffenheit (which, shockingly, having toured the world over, somehow was never seen here) and the brand new Revisor. New York City presenters, take note: here's hoping we get some of Pite's recent evening-length gems, and soon.