Christiana Axelsen and Zoe Scofield, photo by Juniper Shuey
On Thursday evening, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t made its NYC premiere at Dance Theater Workshop. This seventy-minute collaboration between Seattle-based choreographer Zoe Scofield and her husband, visual and video designer Juniper Shuey, premiered at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art in 2007. the devil you know is simultaneously refined and raging, guided not by a narrative, but rather by an accumulation of emotions. Hidden beneath the wildly explosive movement and ghostly stares is a vulnerability that runs its course throughout this stunning piece.
The opening projection of rapidly falling snow creates a pressured atmosphere – one in which the audience is weighed down while feeling as if they are rising above it. The pressure mounts as Morgan Henderson’s crackling electronic score grows louder and a corps of dancers, students from Barnard College, twitches and trembles. What starts as a delicate image of snow becomes frighteningly chilling, setting the stage for the types of transformations throughout the work. Scofield draws upon her solid training in ballet to show rigorous technique, clear lines, formations, and patterns. But the balletic foundation is often distorted. Torsos curl, hips jut out, and arms are more spidery than swan-like. Grace is counterbalanced by ferocity. The satisfying rawness of the devil you know is not only apparent in the movement, but also in the embodied emotions emanating from the dancers’ cells. Scofield, in particular, is possessed by a force that overwhelms her soul, causing her to wildly convulse and gasp without warning. Yet, she succeeds at breaking down the theater’s fourth wall by sucking the audience into her emotional state with the subtlest of glances.
Emotional depth is also visible among the dancers’ interactions. In a duet for a woman and the only man in the piece, the dancers violently grab at each other’s necks, but in the end, she supports his neck with the top of her foot as he slowly rolls across the floor in silence. Another couple imitates this mesmerizing image. It is one of the tenderest moments in the work.
Charcoal-colored confetti falls throughout the last third of the piece, creating a murkier setting than at the piece’s opening. After another round of vicious stomping and leaping to a repetitive, rhythmic score that combines percussion and electronics, the pace mellows and the dancers return to their starting positions, with squares of yellow light cast from above. The rich emotional history embedded and revealed in Scofield’s movement comes full circle, but along the journey, the dancers reach a heightened consciousness of their surroundings and selves.
the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t continues this evening at DTW. Tickets can be ordered online, at the box office, or by calling 212.924.0077.
Read an interview with Juniper Shuey at DTW’s blog, and learn more about Scofield and Shuey at their website.