Creation Theory in an Evening of Danceposted on October 31st, 2010 by Pamela Vachon
Mention the words “Crystal” and “Pite” around any of the dancers I work with, and they tend to go all swoony. Similarly, the young dancers seated in the audience around me on Saturday night (Juilliard students, it would happen) spoke her name only in breathless tones. I recognized by sight no fewer than three internationally renowned choreographers in house (which leads me to believe there were probably more). So I couldn’t help but experience her Dark Matters with senses pointed toward considering the question, what makes the dance community rally around Ms. Pite so completely? And dance community aside, given that Montclair State University president Susan Cole responded to her opening night viewing of Dark Matters by e-mailing the student body and insisting they do also, what makes, well, everybody rally around the work of Crystal Pite?
Her work is smart, and she often tackles sophisticated ideas as a basis for her choreography; this is evidenced in the titles of her choreographic canon, including Fault, Lost Action, and Double Story. She offers several literary references as a guide to her vision for Dark Matters and asks some big questions through a gorgeous pantomime involving a creator and his puppet. What responsibility do we have for what we create? What happens when we abandon our creations? Can we control what we create once it is subjected to the universe? These questions are left for consideration in the second half of the piece, in which a lone shadowy figure remains to oversee and interact with five plainclothes dancers. We have moved beyond the puppet master’s studio, but can you really be sure of where the impetus for all the movement comes from? Can you feel the dark matter in the background, filling in the spaces around the dancers’ intention and effort?
Should you not be in the mood, however, to ponder such lofty notions, at the end of the day, Crystal Pite’s work is just damn fun to watch. Witnessing the small puppet articulated with finest detail by its four dancer-puppeteers is simply marvelous. The movement in the second half is nothing short of exhilarating—lyrical, daring, explosive, passionate. And the dancers were as superb athletes and artists as I have ever seen.
In addition to all of this, for me, Ms. Pite demonstrates something completely extraordinary in this work: complex emotion can be shown through the body alone. A faceless, wooden puppet conveyed curiosity, disappointment, and rage. The shadowy puppeteers who manipulated it (and each other) made me feel their culpability, frustration, and hysteria. Perhaps in this lies Crystal’s highest appeal, no matter whether she seeks to intellectualize or entertain; in Dark Matters, she very vividly paints pictures with the body that speak to the human experience.
Pamela Vachon is the Company Manager for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, an occasional dance critic, and an even more occasional food blogger.