Long before establishing Armitage Gone! Dance as a permanent company in 2005, Karole Armitage performed with the Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve, a company devoted exclusively to Balanchine technique. In the late 70s she danced with Merce Cunningham Dance Company, throughout the 80s she led her own company in New York, and during the 90s she created works for many European ballet and modern companies. Think Punk!, currently being performed at the Kitchen, celebrates the hard-rock ballet style that Armitage has pioneered over the past thirty years. The performance marks the 30th anniversary of her first New York season by presenting three works from the 80s along with a new excerpt. On Saturday evening, one thing was clear: Armitage is not afraid to be irreverent, and she’s proud of it.
Drastic-Classicism (1981) is the boldest piece on the program. Accompanied by four guitarists and a drummer playing an unbearably loud rock score by Rhys Chatham, dancers in black, ripped costumes intersperse ballet vocabulary with angry kicks and full-body convulsing. They pour on and off the stage as they thrash about, sometimes alone but more frequently with other dancers or with the musicians, who are equally immersed in the rock setting. Back in 1981, this piece was too radical to be performed as part of Dance Theater Workshop’s season (how the times have changed). Yet, for all its rage and attitude, in 2009 the piece feels dated and a bit immature. When the dancers narrow their eyes at the audience – as if to say, “What? You gotta problem?” – it’s hard to take them seriously.
In Wild Thing (1987), a slightly milder version of Drastic-Classicism, Leonides D. Arpon emerges from a black, heart-shaped box designed by Jeff Koons to dance with Dana Marie Ingraham. As they thrust their pelvises and shake spastically to Jimi Hendrix’s music, it’s obvious that the dancers enjoy engaging the audience more than each other.
Giorgia Bovo and Matthew Prescott in “The Watteau Duets”, photo by Julieta Cervantes
The more interesting pas de deux on the program is The Watteau Duets (1985), performed by Giorgia Bovo and Matthew Prescott. Six duets, set to a score by David Linton, reveal a progression from classical to contemporary that is reflected in both the choreography and costuming. Bovo wears point shoes, stilettos, and finally appears barefoot with Prescott. Her shoes, according to Armitage’s program notes, serve as weapons in a battle of the sexes. In fact, Prescott often seems overwhelmed by Bovo’s power and intensity. Watching musicians Matt Mottel and Kevin Shea literally turn their drum set and gong into a playground is utterly entertaining. They improvise as they try balancing on a drum, tipping a gong onto the drummer’s seat, and most entertaining of all, standing on a symbol. The set is practically in pieces by the end of the dance.
An excerpt from Mashup, Armitage’s newest work, is an unfortunate assault on the eyes and ears. Daniel Iglesia’s score is so mashed up that it was not even comprehensible. Moving in silky red shorts and tops, the dancers throw a lot of highly energetic but meaningless choreography at the audience. Mashup is ostentatious without ever impressing. It was a lackluster ending to a loud, hard-rock, in-your-face evening.
Armitage Gone! Dance: Think Punk! continues through March 14th at The Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street (between 10th & 11th Avenues), 8 PM.