Joyce Theatre Review: State of Darkness (Sara Mearns) November 1, 2020 | Digital
I have never been very fond of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) score, either as a child in Disney’s Fantasia or as an adult viewing a stage filled by a group of dancers. The booming music is most often complemented with a village or commune theme; a group of tribal members sacrificing one of their own.
In Molissa Fenley’s State of Darkness, she places the heavy 35-minute score upon the shoulders of a single dancer on a blank stage. All pretense of a story stripped, the simplicity embraces the discord and allows the music to exist in a realm alongside the movements. It is exquisite.
Originally choreographed in 1988 by Fenley for the American Dance Festival, State of Darkness has seen many worldwide stages before The Joyce. I can only imagine what it may have been like to see it live in theater. The Joyce does a nice job of ensuring as much normalcy as possible by including a pre-curtain-up note to the digital audience, “…please take a moment to silence the electronic devices you are not using to watch this performance”.
The Joyce also included a digital program which reminded me of the times when I could sit in a filling theater, browsing my paper program, looking across the rows for friendly faces. It was a lovely nod to a time “before”. Even more exhilarating, The Joyce has set up the stream as a live broadcast, meaning we saw the dance as it was happening, an occurrence very few of us have been privy to since March. It gave me that wonderful, nervous flutter I get in my gut before every live show.
Every performance over the course of the week was presented by a new dancer, making a total of seven casts. Sara Mearns took the stage on Sunday evening bringing a meditative grace to the floor.
The slow moments are her best; she is able to build a quiet tension which she throws away and returns to several times. I’m continuously in awe of Mearns’ wingspan which she uses well in Fenley’s work.
The piece reveals a fervent, burning realness one can only describe as human. Darkness can bring about thoughts of confusion and mistrust of our surroundings. While the movements are not those of a blind wanderer, they do seem to ask the question, “why?” Hands make fists, or are spread wide in open, receiving palms. Feet are flexed and pointed. There are flat-footed shuffles and high arched-bourrees. Lengthy arms swipe away an otherness we can’t quite grasp, yet we all know too well.
The human-condition, the world-condition both weigh heavy on the lone dancer. We see repeated shuddering, fearful breaths and flittering, unsteady hands. Like trying to dry oneself from an undying and perpetual drench, the movements ache out their question, “Why me? Why us? Why this?” State of Darkness, although 32 years old, echoes an understanding of an unstable world, possibly resonating even more now.
The piece peels back the nonsense and leaves raw edges on the stage. It begs us to see the world for what it is and allows us to ache. But it also reminds us the human condition is at the mercy of darkness unless we choose to step into the light.
State of Darkness is available to stream through November 7th at Joyce.org.
Nadia Vostrikov is a former television actress and dancer for Boston Ballet II, Alberta Ballet, and numerous freelance dance companies. She currently works as a Digital Marketer in NYC. (Photo by: Katrina Cunningham)