Dana Reitz, Severe Clear

Radcliffe Dance Studio

Counteracting the ongoing cacophony of borrowed styles, there are lately on the rise the hush-hush tones of soft-core asceticism. The resurgence of interest in Helen Frankenthaler’s work, the use of oriental and calligraphic motifs by younger artists like James Nares and Scott Richter, and the development of a lyrical/minimal vernacular by sculptor John Duff are all part of this most current state of affairs. So is the choreography of Dana Reitz.

Though her reputation is staked partly upon her maverick image, Reitz’s standard late-Modern training—through the examples of George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, Indian dance/theater, tai chi chuan, Twyla Tharp, Laura Dean, and Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach—is clear in every move. What is special about Reitz’s work is a precarious, glimpsing sort of introspection—a normally fleeting mood that she sustains, as if dipped in bronze, through consciously ephemeral, loose-jointed phrasing. It is an archetypally adolescent kind of movement that would remind one of Agnes De Mille’s budding-young-girl dancer in the musical Carousel, 1945, for instance, if Reitz and her partner, Sarah Skaggs, were not so very angular and modern-looking. They look at their arms a lot and dance without music.

Reitz invited James Turrell to create a set and lighting scheme for her dance Severe Clear; I have yet to figure out what the binding concept of their collaboration might have been. Apart from a carpeted, stepped bleacher for audience seating, Turrell’s set included nothing to make his typical light and space installation more “inhabitable.” Putting dancers—figures—inside one of Turrell’s lighted-box rooms is a form of bad housekeeping; Reitz and Skaggs did not try to not be there, as it were, but instead coyly tiptoed or hopped in and out of its frame, dispelling Turrell’s abstract illusionism and calling attention to themselves. In the last couple of years many transient partnerships have been formed, very likely out of a widespread yearning for generational community or for some semblance of a developing renaissance that would link generations as well as different art forms. But collaboration is more than just a matter of making sure one’s dance card is filled with the names of proper suitors. Reitz, who conceptualizes movement through calligraphic drawings, had for a muse in this piece the New England Aquarium. She and Skaggs, with their wonderfully attuned movements, great geometric haircuts, and pearlescent costumes, designed by John David Ridge, made terrific-looking fish. Turrell, a little like Ansel Adams, is a rugged mystic, very obvious uninvolved with bodies not astral. Severe Clear was aptly titled and—in shades of pink, gray, and blue—was easy on the eye; a mutual prettification project, it was very soft-core.

Lisa Liebmann