In the paintings of Louis Le Brocquy you can see the history of 20th century art. Homages to Picasso, Matisse, Braque, M.C. Escher, Francis Bacon (who was the artist’s friend) abound.
In “Cold Dream Colour,” Morleigh Steinberg and Oguri’s choreographed homage to Le Brocquy, you can see the history of 20th century dance: the anti-aesthetic aesthetic of butoh, the naturalistic expressionism of Isadora Duncan, the organic manipulation of body and fabric and lights of Loie Fuller, the analytical approach to movement of Rudolf Laban, the pedestrian movement of the Judson Church group, and just a touch of the stylized naturalism of Momix, of which Steinberg was a founding member.
This is not the kind of work you usually see at BodyVox, where Arcane Collective, Steinberg’s Irish-based company opened a three night run of excerpts from “Cold Dream Colour” on Thursday night.
There is nothing in these excerpts that is even remotely amusing or entertaining, and not much that is immediately accessible. The pace is extremely slow; the music, composed by Paul Chavez and U2 guitarist The Edge, to whom Steinberg is married, has few dynamics. Apart from the lights, designed by Steinberg, and a performance space gorgeously defined by a set piece of hanging white fabric to create a proscenium stage, created by Oguri and Moses Hacmon, there is little that is beautiful in any conventional sense. Some of the images presented I found incredibly unpleasant. However, and it is a huge “however”, I woke up this morning still seeing them in my mind. I have long maintained that as a critic you don’t have to like a work of art to judge whether or not it is good or bad. “Cold Cream Colour” is very good work indeed, everyone involved highly skilled, extremely talented and knowledgeable about the workings of the human body.
It begins on a darkened stage. Slowly, very slowly, a light reveals the face of Oguri in a malevolent grimace. He is dressed, more or less, in the loincloth of the butoh dancer, minus the white powder we’ve seen on Sankai Juku company members. His hand is spotlighted and looks huge; he leans forward, looking ancient and intense, only half his face revealed. He crouches and falls sideways; another dancer, who turns out to be Steinberg, stands, nude, behind a cloth, then begins mouthing through it, arms outstretched. I find this interesting, but disagreeable.
Steinberg then pulls down the cloth, the stage goes dark. When the lights go up again, we see Steinberg, clothed, hair brushed over her face and completely covering it, gathering up the fabric, which in the course of the piece will be folded into a square package and worn like an obi, spread out on the floor like a bedsheet, and bundled into the shape of a swaddled baby. Steinberg’s movement is as controlled and considered as Oguri’s, and the way she uses her long-fingered hands to manipulate the fabric is fascinating and beautiful.
The stage is cleared, Oguri returns, now clothed in western underwear, moving a little like a puppet without strings, very loose-jointedly, his head flopping. He sits, and wiggles his upraised feet, and gazes contemptuously at the audience. Steinberg returns with the sheet and spreads it on the floor to make a bed, and we have an unpleasant domestic scene, echoing the in-your- face realism of Bacon’s paintings.
Enter a small, dark-haired dancer named Cat Westwood and the mood and tone change, as she moves from a crouch to a fall, gets to her feet and starts jumping. She produces a bouquet of flowers from behind one of the curtains, which has the familiar appearance of the small nosegays Picasso inserted into some of his blue-period paintings, an image that is reinforced by Oguri, Steinberg and Westwood as they form a familial tableau.
Steinberg then holds the once-again folded cloth against her abdomen, looking intently at the audience. She and Oguri then start hitting themselves in the face, creating another unpleasantly memorable image, they’re out of control and Westwood smiles maniacally.
The cloth now seems to be a swaddled baby; Steinberg stands, cradling it in her arms, at the rear of the space, behind her what appears to be the glow of a votive candle. Ireland is a Catholic country, after all. A fourth dancer, who turns out to be her sister, Roxanne Steinberg, also tall, long-limbed and elegant, stands behind her, and they do a richly textured emotionally engaging dance that for me is the highlight of the evening.
This is followed by a quartet involving the sheet, which forces these dancers to relate to each other for the first time and the piece ends with the fabric once again rolled into an “infant,” being cradled.
“Cold Dream Colour” is performed again tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 at the BodyVox studios. Ticket information here.
And like it or not, it’s well worth seeing.