Talking About My Generation

Claudia La Rocco on dance in June

Jennifer Lacey, Blue or the persistence of a dance held in objects, 2014. Performance view, Danspace, New York. Jennifer Lacey.

I DON’T CARE how long Jennifer Lacey has been an American in Paris. She’ll always be a New York dancer to me. Something about her combination of a fiercely casual physical precision (what, this old thing?) and a conceptual poetics—or is it a poetic conceptualism?—as survival mechanism... it’s perfection.

Really I could just say that New York dancers are the best thing I can think of and leave it at that (Maggie Cloud, Simon Courchel, Burr Johnson, and especially Stuart Singer in John Jasperse’s Within Between at New York Live Arts, for example, or all of New York City Ballet in this past season’s performances of Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments). But that was my lede a few months ago. Already the loop repeats. Life is hard.

But so, Lacey. I saw her perform Blue or the persistence of a dance held in objects on the opening night of the choreographer DD Dorvillier’s retrospective Platform “Diary of an Image” at Danspace Project, the first of four nights dedicated to one-offs by her collaborators and peers and other important artistic forces in her life. Someone said to me it was a weak framework, that Dorvillier was just commissioning her friends. Well, first of all, hello art world—sometimes it seems impressive that people aren’t only curating their lovers—but also, I think it’s a nicely capacious container for holding a set of inexactly shared sensibilities, jostling in conversation. There’s something around the uneasy mix of abstraction, craft, and didacticism in Dorvillier’s aesthetic that I find intriguing, and I’m not sure I would have seen it without this sort of arrangement. (Speaking of incestuous curation, here is where I say that I am in charge of the next Platform at Danspace, and you, dear reader, can decide whether you care to push on further.)

Anyway, any excuse to get Lacey onto a New York stage is ok by me. “It’s late, don’t put the pressure on,” Lacey said when I saw her in the crowd pre-performance, and told her I was excited to see what she would do.

Her face was deadpan. And then she went out and tore it up, wearing theory lightly on her sleeveless dress as she tackled the nature of thing-ness in a silky, movement-infused meditation focused on a battered blue bucket that appeared in Dorvillier’s 2005 work No Change or freedom is a psycho-kinetic skill.

The next night Zeena Parkins performed, and her electronic harp improvisation was one of the most sublimely witty and intoxicating performances I can remember. I’m reduced to modifiers. Is there anything sexier than smart New York women? (Maybe smart Parisian women—the other standout performance of the spring being Emmanuelle Huynh’s A Vida Enorme/épisode 1, also at Danspace, which made me want to write a PS to my previous column saying maybe I have everything wrong.)

I saw all four nights of these works, all solos save one and all performed by their makers, and despite the dance context there was something intriguingly performance art–like about them—the maker inseparable from what was made, and a sort of hot, personal riskiness, some fraying around the edges. Dances in New York tend to be crazily labor-intensive—perhaps one way to measure value in a market-driven system, when you have no product to put on a pedestal—but most of these works felt tossed off in the best way. Made to order, not so belabored. If that’s illusory, don’t correct me please.

Jen Rosenblit, A Natural Dance, 2014. Performance view, The Kitchen, New York, May 28, 2014. Jen Rosenblit and Addys Gonzalez.

Speaking of fraying edges: Bill T. Jones. The Kitchen gala. The moment in his improvisation on a raised dais during dinner service at Cipriani Wall Street when he decided it made sense to mime machine-gunning the crowd. Maybe there was a reference there I missed. But, uh. Wow, Bill. Tell us how you really feel.

I’d never been to a Kitchen gala before. Gun violence aside, it felt sort of stuffy to me—but then, that’s how institutions have to behave when they grow up, right? You can’t little-engine-it-that-could forever, no matter how impoverished your field.

Or maybe stuffy is another way of saying it’s hard for me to relate to Eric Bogosian and Cindy Sherman and gala honoree Robert Longo—I think maybe in the same way that we almost can’t see our parents as actual people through their parenty-ness. Their world isn’t mine—it created mine.

Whereas when I go to the Chocolate Factory’s Taste of LIC smorgasbord gala on the Queens waterfront there’s a different sort of generational recognition. This year it was pouring and the tent was schvitzing. There were lines of Girl Scouts snaking everywhere, cock-blocking anyone trying to get to the prime food tables (thankfully not the booze) and the theater’s inimitable executive director Sheila Lewandowski was wearing what appeared to be a homemade crown—what’s not to love?

I don’t have a segue to get from rapacious Scouts to Jen Rosenblit. But her show A Natural Dance was at the Kitchen, and watching it I also felt the generational thing, only from the other side. I’m about to have my Helen Molesworth moment. Kids these days can explain it on paper, all too well. I think Rosenblit is a seriously smart artist. But during her last couple of shows, and this one especially, I’ve had the feeling that I am watching that seriously smart young brain turn its focus, red eye of Hal–like, on the current Academy, and press fire: Tere O’Connor’s dissolute theatricality, Sarah Michelson’s sculptural attention to set-as-architecture, pop song lyrics tweaked and rendered strange through repetition by everyone, and black boxes turned white bright cube … fashions of the day positioned this way and that.

And that’s ok, that’s what artists do, they have conversations with each other’s work. (Artists! They’re just like us.) But I couldn’t find Rosenblit’s voice in all of this, exerting itself for its own sake, its own purposes. “Helen, where did you go?” Not you, Molesworth, but the other gal, the invisible one called after again and again by the performers in A Natural Dance. No doubt smoking outside, looking the other way.