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Bess Rowen

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You Better Werk: Abrons Arts Center Presents Werk!: The Armitage Gone Variety Show

Posted: 05/ 3/2012 10:10 am

There was body paint, whipped cream, and a bodiless man. Though this may sound like just another evening in New York, it is actually a short description of Werk!: The Armitage Gone Variety Show. The double punctuation actually gives a great deal away, as this is a piece of dance/performance art/theater staged one after the other. I was entertained throughout, but the highlight of the piece was certainly "Rave," the concluding piece choreographed by Karole Armitage featuring an astounding number of brightly painted dancers who steal the show.

At the Abrons Arts Center on the LES, the theater on the first floor is a miniature version of some of the grander houses on Broadway. It makes it all the more impressive when the lights come up on a man's bodiless head. This is Doug Fitch performing a monologue and dance entitled "A Moment of Concern." Fitch is an excellent storyteller and I was immediately with him as he began an almost Mrs. Dalloway-esque piece about preparing for a party. This entire piece was both funny and quirky in the best of ways, loosely associating from one movement to the other and bringing the audience along for the ride.

The other piece that moved like this was "Whipped Cream," the first act of a new iteration of Will Cotton's performance piece "Cockaigne," choreographed and performed by Ruby Valentine. Armed with two large white-feathered fans, Valentine is mesmerizingly graceful as she swirls and floats like the piece's namesake. This piece actually has a multi-sensory effect, as sweet-smelling perfume is sprayed around the audience just prior to Valentine beginning (or really as she has posed herself but not yet begun to move, so in this sense the piece has started).

There are some other pieces that are interesting, but do not quite have the force of these two, and "Rave," which I will come to shortly. The band, Roma!, for example, seems to want to be a part of a dance variety show very badly without knowing quite how to accomplish that. The choreography of the female musicians was reminiscent of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" video, while the lead singer and "the virgin," who was being threatened by the other women in between the songs, just sort of romped around the stage. The performance here was lacking the intentionality of its more successful brethren.

Last but not least, the piece that made me wish this show wouldn't end was "Rave." Each dancer in the Armitage Gone! Dance ensemble is painted from head to toe in a bright color and sporting some creative level of undress. The vibrant colors mix with energetic choreography and bumping music to create an amazing spectacle. Yet unlike a great many other types of spectacle these days, the wonder is inspired not by an impressive set change, but rather by the virtuosic movements of these performers.

As they perform move after style-bending move, one cannot help but be amazed at the skill of the dancers, visually heightened by the color display. A strong piece of dance moves me in a visceral way. At the end of this piece I found myself contorted in my seat, the result of a combination of trying to keep myself from moving with the infectious music and contagious dancing. This piece is everything I, as a theater-biased viewer, hope to get out of a dance: the celebration of the possibilities of the human body, with the unexpected addition of a great deal of unity.

If you like to see a collection that is at all times unusual, but also occasionally virtuosic, then go down to the Abrons Arts Center and see Werk!: Armitage Gone Variety Show. Even if you don't fall head over heels for every single piece, "Rave" is enough to make this evening worth your time.

 

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