Sarah Michelson’s Devotion opens with a female solo. Initially reminiscent of Merce Cunningham’s super technical vocabulary that displays one non sequitur after another, Michelson’s movement quickly contextualizes itself, setting the scene and physically describing the space. Richard Maxwell’s text is the soundscape, and I admittedly did not capture all of it as the rigor of the dance (and virtuosity of the dancer, Rebecca Warner) had me mesmerized.
Devotion ruminates on Christianity, its archetypal characters and scenarios, and brings it right up to the present moment. It questions, quests, re-imagines, sheds light upon and makes light of the human need for something to devote oneself to.
The first solo went on and on, and I wanted it to. Unlike the monotone yet eloquent text, the movement had dynamic surprises and unforeseen charted depths. The dancer was one moment erect on one foot, her other leg extended high then instantly contracted into a deep lunge, legs spread with knees poking out like an insect’s, fingers splayed like wings.
The movements do not literally match the words and yet there is relationship like when Michelson smartly pauses the dancer just in time for us to absorb a deadpan joke. Words and movement flow together and apart, allowing ample room for meanings to be extrapolated and invented by us.
The performing space is confined, defined by a tall structure comprised of pipe, curtain and moveable panels. Oil paintings hang from the grid that spans the length of the stage and abbreviates its depth. Clusters of lights invade the space. One such cluster, downstage center, evokes a fallen Tree of Life.
The next section took my breath away as 14-year old Non Griffiths took her turn at solo virtuosity. Both child and woman, this young dancer executed the ambitious choreography with intense precision. Her diminutive presence evoked mystery and even creepiness as she portrayed Mary. Together with James Tyson (as Jesus), they executed a queer duet of archetypal significance.
The third major section depicted Adam and Eve of course, cartoonish cheerleader gymnasts in the Garden of Eden. Their duet repeated, riffed upon itself and built into a lather of poignant meaning as they attempted time and again to achieve ridiculous partnered lifts. This fall from grace took its time. Shadows lengthened and fissures deepened upon the long diagonal that was both the on-ramp and the way out.
The initial soloist returns. She is Narrator and a little bit Mother Nature. She again performs movements to words, and this time I am able to listen and watch both. There is gentleness, a feeling of having been on a journey and returned safely home. A certain peace has been made with the events that occurred, the physical manifestations and rigors of the notion of devotion. I can practically see sand or dirt under her feet as the space is wiped clean with her sneakered feet, making room for more.