“A Pandemic Notebook” review: Karole Armitage presents the final program of new works

What does it mean when a prolific choreographer declares that she will stop presenting new works? So did choreographer Karole Armitage, who came of age in the 1980s. But dancing is difficult. Maybe she’s over.

A dance artist known for years as the “punk ballerina” – a badge she still proudly wears – Armitage presented “A Pandemic Notebook”, a series of short works that blend movement, fashion and cinema. Although the pieces on the program, at New York Live Arts, were firsts, many had a vintage feel – uncomfortably, like leftovers from a day in 1983. Here, a new wave aesthetic filtered through today’s dancers Today ended up looking more affected than sexy, more poised than weird.

From the looks of the program, Armitage spent much of the pandemic immersed in the film — a new dance, “Beautiful Monster,” was inspired by a section of Luchino’s “Le Streghe” or “The Witches.” Visconti (1967). She has also made films herself, seeking new ways to reveal the body: in two short examples, “Killer” and “Andy”, the shooting is done from below so that what appears on screen are flashes of legs, feet, hair, as if the audience were perched under a glass floor.

While dizzying, neither was particularly innovative; the program also didn’t need a mini-explanation in the form of “Andy ‘Making Of'”, in which Armitage took the stage to break down some of the footage from the movie version of “Andy” with the help from Alonso Guzman. He demonstrated shooting angles as Sierra French and Cristian Laverde-Koenig navigated around him – rocking a pointe shoe, flipping their hair over their faces and pushing through space with their legs outstretched.

Other works like “Louis”, based on Roberto Rossellini’s film “The Taking of Power by Louis XIV” or “The Taking of Power by Louis XIV” (1966), examined the idea of ​​celebrity in a stylized frame to show the depravity of opulence. Non-verbal and experiential, this and “Beautiful Monster” explored corruption and power dynamics. Yet everyone felt stuffy. Where was the momentum in these miniature costume dramas? Or were they Covid dreams?

In “6 ft. Apart,” created in collaboration with sound engineer Agnes Fury Cameron, Armitage reflected on the now-familiar rule of social distancing. Guzman, wired with a motion sensor that triggered the sound, sat in a chair at the front of the stage. Filming the duo with a smartphone clipped to his cap, he darted between the dancers, shaking violently when one got too close to the other. At least that’s what it seemed was happening. Either way, the gadget soon wore out.

In his quest to reveal the body from different angles, Armitage also showed off his own, performing for the first time since 1989. The occasion was “Time/Times,” a duet with Jock Soto, a former New York City manager Ballet. There is a 25-minute film version, directed by Armitage, which serves as Soto’s portrayal; here the couple danced excerpts, appearing first as a solo and then as a duo. Set to Bach, it featured images of majestic locations – from Colorado and New Mexico – as backdrops, settings stark, lonely and even a little wild.

There was something so ceremonial and tender about the way Soto, dancing for the first time in New York since 2005, took to the stage. Rooted in the center and facing the audience, he appeared grounded like steel – he still has a powerful way of taking up space – before he began to spiral and twist his torso, reaching arms into shapes curious, until he finally turns his back and walks. in the wings.

Armitage, dressed in black, held a torn and tied trash bag, which she used to whip the air in quick bursts; standing before an image of packed, pristine snow, she looked defiant, though her face was obscured by a mask. His spiky, bird-like body came alive in quick footwork and pirouettes, but it was his quieter, quieter moments, especially those shared with Soto, that carried the most weight. Their duet was etched with vulnerability as they navigated the stage after such a long absence, and it showed depth, or the promise of it.

The program closed with “Marc Jacobs,” featuring pieces from the designer’s Fall/Winter 2020-2021 collection; Armitage was a choreographer of her elegant and lavish parade. Even though her last dance was a considerably smaller affair with just six performers, it had smoothness and groove, all washed down with the music of Jim Pepper.

It’s one thing to show new works; it’s quite another to show too many new works, even if they are short. While “A Pandemic Notebook” is meant to be his farewell to new choreography, it’s unlikely his company, Armitage Gone! The dance is really going to disappear. In a teaser towards the end of the night, the words “Coming soon” flashed across the screen, and below: “Punk Minimalism.” This is followed by short video clips of some of his most brash and abrasive early work. For Armitage, it looks like the next project will dive into the past.

A pandemic diary

Through Saturday at New York Live Arts, Manhattan; newyorklivearts.org.

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