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Review: Lucy Guerin Inc at Jacob’s Pillow

Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin keeps her six dancers very busy in her poignant, hour-long piece, Structure and Sadness, which was inspired by the collapse of Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge in 1970, a tragedy that killed 35 workmen. This incident looms over the work from the startling beginning, as what looks like a sturdy, perforated wall on the hazy stage suddenly topples over, along with the heretofore-unseen man who was holding it up from behind; he dramatically falls to the floor on top of what has been revealed to be a rectangle of flimsy material.

The dance proceeds as Alisdair Macindoe dances a duet with that sheet of fiberboard, repeatedly falling as it fails to bear his weight. He then turns his attention to a spot-lit stack of tiny fiberboard rectangles, setting up four in two inverted Vs with a fifth on top. He places his left foot on this miniscule structure, then lifts his right foot from the ground, and improbably the minibridge holds. It’s a moment fraught with tension, even though the drop would be just a few inches.

Rural Intelligence Arts
Photo: Jeff Busby

Throughout the first part of Structures and Sadness, the six dancers industriously fill the stage with these structures, based on fiberboard cards of various sizes placed in sideways Ts and inverted Vs, and break out in dances – solos, duets, various configurations that play with weight transference, balance, and support – within the rapidly diminishing space, precariously close to the toppling their work. One pas de deux recalls the child’s game, London Bridge (and we all know its refrain, “ falling down”). Kyle Kremerskothen brings in a red ladder and the dancers build a seven-story tower. There’s no question that this house of cards will fall; the only question is how. It’s high drama when it all does come crashing down.

Rural Intelligence Arts
Photo: Kristi Putsch

An abstract animation suggesting blueprints reappears later in the work as yellow flickering fluorescent light tubes arrayed on the stage wall behind a scrim, some of which are eventually extinguished, creating an abstracted image of a tension bridge. A flexible metal plank plays a central role in several key, anxiety-filled scenes. The soundscape, an evocative original score by Gerald Mair, includes audio reporting the actual bridge collapse, which follows a symbolic enactment of the disaster, and precedes a more literal, and shattering, dance of despondency by women in black – the wives of the deceased workmen. As the featured widow, Harriett Ritchie makes their grief palpable.

Rural Intelligence Arts
Photo: Kristi Putsch

While the dance is rooted in one specific disaster, it reminds us of every incident in which people die when structures collapse: the flimsy buildings of China that crumpled during recent earthquakes; the substandard structures swept away in the Pakistani floods; and yes, even the World Trade Center… ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Through Sunday in the Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow
Becket, MA

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Posted by Bess Hochstein on 08/20/10 at 02:30 PM • Permalink