Heather Kravas’ the quartet played this weekend, Oct 10-13, 2013 at On the Boards—the theater set up in the three-quarter-round. Four dancers presented four distinct acts all while accompanied by the immersive sound played live by Dana Wachs/Vohrees. Each act presented very different moods, costumes, and soundscores, but the complex and repetitive patterns that demanded endurance both from the dancers and the audience remained consistent throughout. The dancers’ maintained an even, sober composure, and the lack of emotionality, combined with the time devoted to each idea, divided the audience into those who find the repetition mesmerizing and those who become disengaged.
In the first act, the dancers entered as warriors might enter an arena—calm and powerful. Task oriented, they alternated between creating sculptural tableaux and finding various states of undress with a gray sweat suit. At one point they broke into a cheerleading sequence, counting each movement together, before they presented a faster and abbreviated version of the tableau and dressing sequence. The second act had two of the dancers in white tutus and leotards, completing endless unison tendus that gradually traveled them through the space. The other two dancers would intermittently stride through with a militant severity accompanied by heavy beats in the music. Like a ballet student’s nightmare, the two in white progressed to sous-sous, soutenus, and deep pliés to travel through the space, the path varying slightly each time, and always interrupted by the sinister walkers. This went on for an exhausting amount of time.
In the third act, unitard-clad dancers stood single-file as they completed complicated patterns of arm movements and pelvic thrusts. The most compelling image of the night was the dancers repeating “want” faster and faster as they thrusted in unison. In the final act the dancers entered with bells on (literally) in folksy patterned costumes and completed complicated walking pathways. These evolved to a unison walking pattern with a vocally repeated grocery list, which the dancers then phased: a highly difficult task executed impeccably.
The show ended as each act ended—without zenith or fanfare. Each act seemed to allude towards some kind of event that never happened, leaving the audience in a state of artistic blue balls. Kravas uses monotony intentionally, but to what purpose? It was esoteric enough to exclude even committed experimental dance fans, let alone the poor lay people, who will likely think twice before seeing dance again. The length and pacing seemed unnecessary to the ideas in the piece, and drowned out what the quartet does have to offer.
Each act set up complex tasks that asked for almost unreasonable perfection. Particularly in the second act, it is as if Kravas has put these two gorgeous dancers under a microscope—every possible deviation in form or timing laid bare for the audience to see. A marathon of technique overseen by a judgmental authority probably hit home for the audience members who studied ballet, but was likely lost on those who did not. This ballet sequence, the cheer sequence, and the phasing all seem to hinge on the hip thrusting “wants” of the third act. The compulsive, insistent drive of the wanting could relate to the pointlessness of seeking perfection, or maybe the empty desires of modern society. Loaded and open for interpretation, this moment is, at least, relatable to something. It represents the potency this piece could have, with editing. If Kravas desired to make her ideas more accessible, it seems they could exist outside of the context of endurance.
This piece, along with many other experimental performances, questions the artist’s responsibility to their audience. This is not that the artist should compromise their artistic integrity for the sake of entertainment, but ultimately does alienating and boring its audience serve the dance world? There is certainly value in performance that is not necessarily enjoyable to watch, but at what point will audiences begin to disregard the artist’s ideas because they feel abused or excluded? Kravas is definitely not the worst offender here, but the quartet does walk this line. It seems a piece designed for an audience with a specific background, education, and patience.
To learn more about Heather Kravas and her On the Boards Performance, as well as the other dance events at On the Boards, please visit www.ontheboards.org.