new york

Nina Wiener, In Closed Time

brooklyn academy of music

The annual Next Wave Festival is structured on the classic avant-garde notion of collaborative projects. As with any artistic agenda, traditional or "cutting edge,” this criterion has yielded both shining moments and total misfires. Nina Wiener’s In Closed Time, 1985, was one of the flawed productions, its unevenly realized elements jostling out-of-sync in a failed attempt to achieve a Big Statement.

As always, Wiener’s complex formalist choreography was provocative and vigorous, and superbly performed; however, its narrative overlay, clearly intended to transmit a weighty message, was not sufficiently detailed to be understood, a muddle compounded by the use of three discrete musical scores and obtrusive sets. The scores—by Meredith Monk, Sergio Cervetti, and Elliott Sharp—were remarkable, but their individual effect was blurred by their uneasy juxtaposition within one work. The sets, by the “innovative” architectural firm Arquitectonica, were a labored joke. These childlike buildings had none of the charm, freshness, and sense of wonder that a real child would have brought to them; instead, they were trendy yet already dated bits of Postmodern architectural rhetoric. Unlike sculptor Judy Pfaff’s ingenious interactive set for Wiener’s Wind Devil (performed at BAM in 1983), these clumsy structures hindered the dancers’ movements. To complete the scorecard, the lighting, so crucial to the BAM Opera House epic scale, was inexplicably banal.

The result of such an uneven mixture was a hopelessly obscured message. Part of the problem may have been that each of the work’s three movements seemed to reach for a statement in itself, and their ill-defined equations could not add up to a definitive sum. “Old Time” seemed to be a Post-Modern “now,” with frenzied male-female duets (including a mimed corrida with man as matador, woman as bull), a chorus dressed up in either Frederick’s of Hollywood Victoriana or Bauhaus-y constructivist outfits, and Monk’s primitive-futuristic syllabic vocalizing. The set was an architectural anthology of a blue, Postmodern-Miami building, an eccentric inverted cone, and a golden pyramid. ”Out of Time“ was a pastorale, with touchingly innocent solos and duets by the principals and a chorus of recumbent figures slowly rolling across the floor, an electronic score by Cervetti that also included natural sounds (barking dogs, chirping birds), and a set that comprised a large, leaf-covered scaffold and a Plexiglas tower that slowly filled up with fog. In ”Not Yet Time,” the frenetic finale, the dancers rushed around the stage to Sharp’s neo-African pop rhythms and dissonant horn melodies. In a stunning moment that appeared to mark the end of the performance, the hyperactive performers suddenly froze en masse, in a tableau vivant that really punched at your gut. But then, typical of this over-determined collaboration, they quickly resumed their aimless activity, bouncing into and off of one another without really connecting.

John Howell