Studio 2’s New Expressive Works residency program, now in its third year, is developing a reputation for audacious moments—last year, drag queen Kaj-Anne Pepper taped back her penis in front of the audience, and in another act, Rosana Ybarra stuffed her mouth full of dried lavender. This year is no different, but also like previous years, the edge is tempered with milder material.
The residency program offers four artists six hours of rehearsal time per week for six months to work on a 20-minute piece, culminating in this weekend’s three-night show. This year’s residents are Wobbly Dance co-founder Yulia Arakelyan, Conduit Dance contact-improv teacher Eric Nordstrom, experimental choreographer Lucy Yim and a fresh transplant from New York, Luke Gutgsell.
Arakelyan performs with husband Erik Ferguson in their piece You Too Are Made of Stars, which I previewed in this week’s issue. The two, both disabled from birth, begin the piece in wheelchairs, their bodies covered in white paint and medical tubing. They slowly circle each other, eyes locked, backed by a track that sounds like spaceships beeping at each other in a cave. Ferguson eventually dismounts his wheelchair and crawls to Arakelyan’s feet, where they enact what may be the creepiest take on the Lady and the Tramp spaghetti sharing scene: The two hold a tube between their mouths, gently tugging back and forth, until Arakelyan wheels the tube around Ferguson’s neck and leaves him. The movement throughout is slow and simple, and intentionally so. Both Arakelyan and Ferguson say they want to create power in their gazes and the space between them as they communicate without saying anything. It helps to be attuned to this kind of sensibility, and some effort to “get it” is a good sensory exercise.
Nordstrom’s piece Crossover, which he performs with Gina Frabotta, is for sure the danciest of the program. He and Frabotta came up with the concept at a house party, where electroacoustic cellist The OO-Ray (Ted Laderas) was playing live. In the piece, the two take turns in spotlights, with Patrick Swayze-by-a-lake kind of moves, before joining each other in counter balances and modified Lindy Hop lifts. Behind them, a projection begins close up on sharp black and white triangles, and it gradually zooms out to reveal a flower. The score is a strings-based salve, probably processed through a dozen filters, that’s at times both soothing and invigorating. The choreography slips into dullness a few times, but overall it’s a pleasant piece.
Luke Gutgsell’s The Self Possessed was a surprise crowd-pleaser. Gutgsell, formerly of David Dorfman Dance in New York, moved here seven months ago and performs the piece with his boyfriend Nicholas Daulton. At its start, Gutgsell idles in the background wearing faded American flag sweatpants and a T-shirt while Daulton, shorter and perky, examines himself in a long mirror propped up on a folding chair. Soon, Daulton removes his shirt and black sweatpants; now he’s in only bright blue bikini briefs. Then he slips on black heels from under the chair. He struts to the back of the studio, and then, as promised in the program, Britney’s “Work Bitch” starts. So begins a battle of wills between the saucy Daulton and the stifled Gutgsell, who’s exhausting himself by flapping his arms like a bird as Daulton repeatedly shoves a mirror in his face. Gutgsell finally relents, and somewhat awkwardly passes his outfit to Daulton by first letting Daulton crawl into his shirt and pants as he’s still wearing them. After Gutgsell is in his black Jockeys and Daulton the star-spangled sweatpants, the action slows. There’s a beat. I can’t tell if this is a mistake or not. Then Daulton turns to the sound lady and loud whispers “Cue Enya!”I’m a little confused why Lucy Yim’s minimal Tunnel, a work in progress, was placed last. Seeing Gutgsell’s piece immediately before it is kind of like spoiling your dinner. While Gutgsell’s piece is campy and fun, Yim’s is meditative and serene. It has no music, only the buzz from the lights overhead. Yim stands in the middle of the floor and executes a series of repeating, ever-evolving movements. She runs in place. She falls to her knees, slaps her hands to the floor, and gets up again. She pounds her fists, seemingly angry at first, but then gradually relieved, her hands relaxed. Finally, her arms are extended above her head, as if jubilant. The piece recalls Trisha Brown’s Accumulation, a popular solo from which Yim borrowed some movement. On the surface, Yim looks like someone performing calisthenics for 20 minutes, but her face is written with determination, and if you pay attention to her choreography, you can see her short stories. Perhaps that’s why it’s placed at the end—not as an afterthought, but to underscore its potential.