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In Performance: Big Dance Theater, Cage Shuffle (American Realness)

Big Dance Theater
Cage Shuffle

Saturday, January 7, 4:00pm and 7:00pm
Sunday, January 8, 4:00pm and 7:00pm

American Realness
Abrons Arts Center, Studio G05
466 Grand Street

On each audience seat was a card with a simple explanation of what was about to unfold:

“The sequence of the stories is random.

The sequence of the dance is not.

The performer follows Cage’s original performance instructions:

‘Read stories aloud, with or without additional musical accompaniment, paced so that each story takes one minute. Read all stories in order or select a smaller number, using chance procedures or not.’ -John Cage”

The performance began simply as well: two people entered Abrons’ intimate studio space and flicked light switches on the wall. One, creator and performer Paul Lazar, started moving. The other, music composer and performer Lea Bertucci, sat on a stool off to the side. Bertucci soon called out a number, which cued Lazar to start reciting a corresponding story. This repeated several times. The stories, written by Cage, seemingly fed to Lazar through an in-ear device, were jokes or humorous anecdotes from Cage’s life, recited personably by Lazar as he moved. The choreography by Annie-B Parson was wonderfully specific, at times pedestrian, at times expressive. There were many moments when the text and movement were so in sync that it appeared it must have been planned. In one instance when Lazar spoke of waiting, he rapped the fingers of his hands together in the typical gesture of waiting. In another he spoke of a man sleeping and repeatedly closed his eyes. But at other moments the movement seemed directly counter to the text, or related in much more abstract ways, adding surprising dimension. It was great fun to see how the text and movement would line up, and Lazar continually found ways to use the two to support each other, an impressive feat knowing he was putting it together on the spot.

Another flick of the lights, and Bertucci moved from the stool to a sound table, live-mixing a score to accompany Lazar’s continued movement. The shift away from text allowed for increased focus on Lazar’s dance and also on Bertucci’s: both so focused on specific tasks, at times connecting with each other and the audience directly, at times in their own worlds, always mesmerizing.

To end, Lazar righted a chair that had been on its side from the start of the show, sat in it, and started talking. The music slowly lowered and he explained how this show, with its reliance on chance, required listening not just from the audience but also from the performers. This mutual listening was certainly felt throughout the 45-minute performance. Anticipation of what was to come next lay with the audience and with those on-stage, adding an immensely enjoyable electricity to the experience.

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