Little Space, Big Drama

February 2, 2009

Since I grew up watching dance performances in big proscenium theaters with large auditoriums, I’ve had so much fun discovering NYC’s blackbox venues. They might not be as swanky as the Met, but with their intimate scale, blackboxes are a fantastic way to get to know companies better—the dancers are mere feet away from you. So I was really excited to see contemporary choreographer Rebecca Lazier’s company, Terrain, perform at the teensy-weensy Joyce SoHo (a 75-seat blackbox) this past Saturday.

Since there’s no pre-established division between the stage and the audience in a blackbox—it’s just a big, empty room—choreographers are generally free to manipulate the space in interesting ways. And in “Terminal,” the first piece on the program, Lazier did just that. Stiff white plastic sheeting marked off a square “stage” area inside the theater, with audience seating along each side. As the dancers entered from the four corners of the blocked-off space, various images—black-and-white television static, abstract landscapes, twinkling stars—were projected onto the shiny walls. At times it felt like we were inside a giant aquarium. Totally cool.

The program’s second work, “My Serenade,” was a meditation on Balanchine’s iconic “Serenade,” which apparently has deeply affected Lazier. In this piece, it was not the way she used space but the way she used sound that I found most striking. We first heard Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings played on an antique record player—a scratchy, underwhelming recording. When, maybe a third of the way through the dance, those gorgeous opening chords finally boomed out over the main stereo system, I got chills; Tchaikovsky sounds beautiful in big theaters, but the way it utterly filled the little Joyce SoHo, enveloping the audience in a sonic rainbow, was staggering. And since Balanchine’s “Serenade” was fresh in my head—I saw New York City Ballet dance it a couple of weeks ago—I had fun noticing where Lazier’s choreographic choices echoed, and diverged from, Balanchine’s. (It requires a lot of guts to remake a big, famous work with big, famous music by a big, famous choreographer; kudos to Lazier and her dancers for taking on the challenge!)