Posted by: trailerpilot | 09:13::2009

The Waking Room

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The man that Jonathan Meyer is and the way he frames his practice don’t prepare you for his work: It’s as intense, challenging and aggressive as he is mild, deliberate and kind. The Waking Room, an evening-length, CDF-supported production of his Khecari Dance Theatre that opened Thursday, is a new piece for three men (Meyer, with Michel Rodriguez and Philip Elson). To reduce it for a blurb might be to say “it’s a film danced by ninjas and based on a Robert Creeley poem, directed by David Lynch on a bad acid trip.”

This filmic structure is perhaps its most unique and complete concept: As lit by Julie Ballard, the intriguing but run-on piece I saw in progress a few weeks ago was transformed into a series of scenes separated by undefined lapses. There’s an open question as to whether any two represent immediately-subsequent moments or vast leaps forward and backward in time. In a few especially-effective places, an action lasting only a few seconds is reset in darkness and repeated; Meyer and Ballard have made a piece of dance cinema in the flesh.

On the whole it nods to history: Iris Bainum-Houle’s courtly costumes are Dangerous Liaisons by way of Mad Max and a mismatched blood-red sofa and chair recall an old Hollywood parlor and Gilded Age terrace, respectively. These design elements don’t point toward any specific interpretation of past eras but rather help The Waking Room feel far, far away from any contemporary reality. Elson is cast odd-man-out in a role that, for me, was a dilettante who fancies himself king with Meyer and Rodriguez, for unexplained reasons, willing to play along. He spends much of this work’s two acts screeching, pacing nervously, ominously swinging his cane like a hypnotist and staring into our eyes and outer space — it’s a tough role Meyer has given this young man, and he meets the challenge admirably. With most of the abstract narrative on Elson’s shoulders, the other two are freed up to display Meyers’ formal investigations and pure dance tangents. They’re both gorgeous to watch and utterly committed to The Waking Room‘s unrelenting strangeness. Rodriguez flies through Meyer’s acrobatic floorwork with ease and the choreographer dancing his own creation makes perfectly clear what was intended for it. Heavy facework — eyes rolled up into their sockets, mouths gaping open like starved zombies — got to be a little much in the intimate space, but the decision was committed to absolutely and left open the possibility that all three were possessed by outside forces, Earthbound pawns in some galactic deathmatch between rival deities.

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More than any other element, Christopher Preissing’s original score defines this work. Sitting in a loft above the performance space with a laptop, drums, flute and all manner of homemade instruments, the arhythmic mood he generates is dystopian voodoo ritual, choreographically underlined by moments such as Elson carrying Meyers’ head as he walks backward in a hinge, the former’s free hand shaking over Meyers’ sternum like a rabid Pentecostal faith healer’s. Also operating from the loft, kinetic sculptor Christopher Furman is The Waking Room‘s other major collaborator, whose bodyless, mechanical heads and birds comprise a twitching, reflexive ensemble occasionally sneaking front-and-center.

Despite its feverish intensity, I wasn’t emotionally drawn in by this work. Intellectually, however, I found it deliciously open to interpretation — The Waking Room is a morality play, dance-theater allegory, horror movie and chamber opera all in one. The dancing is top-notch and unlike anything else happening in the city, and Meyer’s replacement of a traditional program with individually-wrapped decks of cards adds a long afterburn of supplemental material: In sequence, their content transitions from standard contributor info and acknowledgements into sketches and journal entries. My mind is still kneading The Waking Room‘s images; this is a dance that stays with you.

The Waking Room continues tonight at 7pm and September 16-19; click here for details.

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