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12 Hour Play Pushes Past Time

Written by Victoria Jacobs
Photo by Tim Summers
At 9:04 pm, Scott Davis stood in the center of the sparsely lit Washington Hall, reaching up as if he was hanging from one arm and arcing his legs in reaching angles. At 9:06, a half dozen dancers in black walked in slow circles around him. At 9:07, Kate Wallich and Alia Swersky exploded in a duet of spastic extended reaches and falls. As drums and strings kicked in from opposite corners of the rooms, the women reached and melted toward each other in flailing leaps like great birds flapping their wings. At 9:10 pm, 10 dancers stood in a loose diagonal facing 2 women across the stretched tension of the room. At 9:23 pm, the herd of dancers crawled on hands and knees, scraping the floor with their palms, beating a circle around the edge of the room.

Salt Horse’s 12 Hour Play, presented Saturday, February 4, 2012, from 6 pm to 6 am, was a drawn-out exploration of performance in the face of time. What happens when you reach the point of exhaustion and keep going? What happens when you are “performing” for 12 hours? Salt Horse principals Beth Graczyk, Corrie Befort, and Angelina Baldoz brought together a dozen movement artists and half a dozen sound artists to research the effects of long duration on group dynamics within improvisational scores. The dancers shifted costumes throughout the night between heavy winter clothes, yellow dresses, cocktail dresses, and simple black. Ilvs Strauss designed shifting lighting that moved between bright washes, dramatic spots, and floor lamps with bare bulbs. Baldoz and a rotating cast of musicians played a soundscore that ranged from thunderous to sighing, rhythmic to half-mad. The sweeping grandeur of Washington Hall’s empty main hall inspired a fluidity of space; the audience sat around the edges or on the small stage or climbed up to the balcony to witness from above.

The long duration destroyed preciousness; although stunningly beautiful moments arose—like Danielle Hammer slowly twitching and hunching her way out of a leopard print dress in one dim corner of the room—they just as quickly disappeared. They passed as easily as ripples on water or a flock of birds, and that was perhaps the point. When the performers pushed time to its breaking point, the importance of each moment began to bend and stretch too. The performers did not demand all of the attention. The audience was free to paint, or stare out the window, or fall asleep.

By 2am, after 8 hours of movement, the exhausted performers were scraping the bottom of the jar. Molly Sides lunged forward and lassoed her cowboy hat around in a furious circle. Davis and Befort danced wide-eyed, stumbling, loosely circling and softly flailing their limbs. The dancers’ costumes were a hodgepodge of mismatched themes. The focus and structure of the early hours deteriorated, as did the audience. One woman, curled in blankets, was fast asleep on the floor as post-party revelers came in to witness. By 3am surprising bursts of energy and flashes of brilliance emerged from the dancers’ melting tiredness. Baldoz’s trumpet cried out from one corner of the room, an exhausted drummer beat out whatever he had left. Mark Haim called out “replace,” and all the dancers switched places, taking someone else’s discarded pose. Another dancer called out “reverse” and they returned to their previous spots.

Three women in glittering party dresses (Sides, Shannon Stewart, and Alice Gosti) stood in the back corner, doing a side-to-side back-up dance that wouldn’t quit. Haim stepped out in a furry hat and a woman’s quilted parka and danced and gestured helplessly like a foreign tourist with the wrong phrasebook in hand. Strauss shifted the lights as the action moved to the balcony, where the footfalls of dancers could be heard, but most of the audience stayed in place on the floor, resting their eyes or watching the shadows of the dancers stretching across the high ceiling of the hall.

The ensemble oozed and melded, seeming to become one sizzling, exhausted mind. They fell into unison without even being able to see each other. They let the stillness hang for long minutes when there was nothing left to do, and yet somehow another shift, eventually, always emerged, and they moved again. And then again.