The dancing started – or seemed to start – with people entering the stage before finding a place and lying down. The bright, stark white lights made the vision blurry, but through the mist, random bodies lay on their backs and sides, completely limp. Above them was a suspended zeppelin: imagine a giant balloon of a baked potato floating above 34th Street during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
But in reality, the scene was dark. Eventually, others – dancers, recognizable by their bare feet – helped those on the floor, who turned out to be volunteers from the audience, to get up to cross the stage. And some time later, they escorted them off the stage and back to their seats. In “take me home», by French choreographer Dimitri Chamblas in collaboration with musician Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, we always have the feeling that something important is about happen.
The problem with this presentation of Dance Reflections – the festival produced by Van Cleef & Arpels – and NYU Skirball, where it was performed Friday night, is that it remains firmly rooted in a nebulous and largely energyless middle ground.
What seems gloomy quickly continues in this dance whose principle is promising: nine dancers, five electric guitars and five amplifiers — and Kim Gordon! (She and Chamblas have worked together since 2018.) I was aroused by certain noises, but earplugs were not necessary for “take me home,” which was dominated by prolonged silence or near-silence; sometimes Gordon’s voice, vocalized sounds, or an anguished whisper of “take me home” cut through the air with pleading urgency.
As the dancers moved from a state of action to stillness, they continually retreated into sinuous, seemingly improvised solos that cast them as loners or, as one program note compared them to shadows: “The forgotten in large metropolises: prisoners, the elderly, the unproductive ghosts, the neglected, the indecisive.
Certainly Chamblas — which created a contemporary dance program in a maximum security prison in California – understands the despair and heartbreak that isolation brings. Even some of the inertia of work makes sense. The ghosts of “takemehome” are embodied by its dancers, dressed in streetwear clothing, as they drift in and out of manic states, sometimes clawing at the air as their audible breath echoes across the darkened stage.
When the “takemehome” dancers get going, their energy shifts lead to quick sprints, quick jumps, limbs apart, but there are also lots of slow movements, in which the bodies lean back and move forward like if they were suspended by ropes. Lately, it seems that contemporary European dance, at least French, has a weakness for slow motion. Sometimes I wonder if this is an unconscious way of asking people to take a well-deserved break. Choreographically, however, it becomes stale.
With lighting by Yves Godin in collaboration with Virginie Mira, the tone of the scene is largely cold as the zeppelin glows white and pale blue. When five of the performers, some standing on the amps, pick up guitars and start strumming – they do so vigorously, their arms moving up and down to create a sheet of sound – the zeppelin turns an angry red. For a moment, the scene, full of purple shadows, heats up.
But soon the scene ends and, once again, time, without air, drags on; when the zeppelin deflates, it is unintentionally comical. The dancers unhook him and remove him from the stage, clearing the way for the final moment where powerful dancer Salia Sanou stands alone, whipping her arms and throwing her lithe body into the air. Leaning back, he freezes his fingertips to search for something invisible, out of reach. The lights are dimming. He disappears into the darkness.