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Absurdity and Poignancy in Mark Haim’s X2

Written by Kaitlin McCarthy
Dancers in Mark Haim’s 2. Photo by Tim Summers
This weekend, Mark Haim presents his highly anticipated concert, X2, at On the Boards. The show opened last night, March 29, 2012, to a full house. The show consists of two works, both simply titled; 1 is a new work, and 2 is an expansion on the popular This Land is Your Land that showed at the 2010 NW New Works Festival.

Upon entering the theater, the audience sees that the piece has already begun. Dancer Hendri Walujo stands perfectly still in a forest of floor-to-ceiling lichen-encrusted trees. Haim himself sits frozen on a rolling platform at the back of the space, which over the course of the 45 minute piece, will inch slowly to the opposite side of the stage. At 8:00 pm the audience settles down, the music begins with a crash, and the lights change from bright, to angled, to blue—each cue casting different shadows over the still space. The rest of the seven-member cast enters and the dancing ensues. With spins, leaps, and kicks, the vocabulary is familiar, but feels direct and intentional. Every movement seems to come in bursts that settle quickly into a stillness. Meanwhile, a small theatrical scene happens downstage, with dancers in some sort of waiting room—sitting in lucite chairs, reading Martha Stewart, and drinking coffee. Haim continues to watch stoically from his seat as white powder falls on his head from an anonymous source above. After a while he resembles some ancient and neglected statue, accumulating bird waste. Dozens of small vignettes overlap to create a dance experience akin to Theater of the Absurd. Nothing makes sense, but everything together creates its own secret logic.

Jody Kuehner and Jim Kent perform a beautiful and agonizingly slow duet; Haim uses time masterfully to build tension, and the audience is drawn into the details—the quiver of a leg or a drip of sweat rolling off a dancer. The tension of Haim sitting, waiting to reach stage left, is broken when he intermittently runs forward, looks confused, and returns to his seat. This choice is confusing, as it lessens the power held in the epically slow journey, and after a few repetitions, becomes predictable. The music becomes predictable as well. A score of long, ominous notes, punctuated by arhythmic sound bursts, is interesting at first, but drags into monotony by the second half of the piece. The dancing, however, remains as capricious as ever. Beth Graczyk performs a solo showcasing technique, expression, and endurance, repeating classical dance moves with growing intensity and fervor. The rest of the cast enters and interacts with her solo using colorful props, and part of her dancing becomes throwing a Frisbee or kicking a ball.

In the end there is no clear takeaway in 1. The piece is captivating, using layer upon layer of detail; the audience is at once fascinated and also unsure of what they should feel, or why things happened the way they did. Copious technical elements are present—the trees moving ever-so-slightly, the ever-changing light cues, and the red and blue florescent bars moving slowly in the back. Each of these could be easily missed, but feel like some personal discovery when noticed.

The second half of the evening is a complete change of mood beginning with a colorfully-clothed cast in front of a colorfully-stripped banner walking to a long playlist of country music favorites. The structure behind 2 is very simple: every eight counts a new dancer emerges from behind the banner, toting a Starbucks coffee cup, walks forward and back, forward and back, until arriving at the end of the banner, where the dancer tosses his cup into a garbage can and exits behind the banner. This structure continues over 40 minutes, and the choreography is in the evolution of the details. Without giving too much away, a narrative evolves from the precise, subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle changes in facial expression, posture, walking, costumes, and props. This piece is governed by a logic that is easy to understand, and the true genius of Haim is revealed in his ability to produce a piece that is at once highly entertaining, accessible, and still poignant. 2 feels extremely relevant, but, again, the takeaway is not so simple. There are too many finely crafted details, subtleties, and undertones to boil this work down to a message—2 is a beautiful example of dance’s power to communicate. It is clear that Haim’s work is something that must be experienced to understand.

With a standing ovation last night, seats will go quickly; tickets for the remaining performances (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 8pm) can be purchased at