Laura Peterson’s “Wooden” at HERE

Edward Rice, Laura Peterson, and Janna Diamond in "Wooden", photo by Steven Schreiber

There is something irresistibly appealing about the idea of dancing out of doors.  For a dancer, sinking your feet into moist soil or feeling sand between your toes is a refreshing change from the smooth surface of a dance studio’s flooring.  So with eagerness I headed to HERE last Friday to see Laura Peterson’s Wooden, a dance installation that cycles through three environments inspired by natural architecture.  The visually stunning set, which included a bed of growing grass, elegant pieces of driftwood suspended from the low ceiling, and wooden benches that served as seating, transformed HERE into a verdant space.  It was an environment deserving of daring movement that would respond and react to its surroundings.

Sadly, what filled the space wasn’t nearly as inspiring as the space itself.  In Part 1: Ground, three women and one man in simple blue and gray costumes (by Candice Thompson) created circular patterns as they dashed back and forth across the grass.  Set to Soichiro Migita’s score, which sounded like a mixture of wind and sand, the dancers’ movement across the grass went on for what felt like an eternity.  With no real precision or focal point, it was exhausting to watch, and perhaps even more exhausting to perform: their bodies were covered in sweat and blades of grass.

Kate Martel, Janna Diamond, Laura Peterson in "Wooden", photo by Steven Schreiber

After the space was reconfigured during intermission, the audience sat on benches placed over the grass while the dancers performed on solid ground in Part 2: Trees.  Prickly, sharp twitches of the body and static noise replaced the lushness of Ground, and evoked a dry, desert atmosphere.  Yet edgy movement isn’t so believable when the dancers don’t throw themselves into it with full force.  The section was frustratingly light – not nearly as powerful as it could be, even with driftwood dangerously rotating inches from the dancers as they hovered beneath it on the ground.

While the program notes indicated that Part 3: Corridor was a return to the first environment, it felt like an extension of the second section.  Hazy and unfocused, it again left me itching for something stronger, something more immersive.  That never happened, but if you have to be stuck indoors, at least real grass and trees can make it feel like you’re miles away.

Wooden continues through November 12th at HERE: 145 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.  Tickets are $20.

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