New York

Pooh Kaye

Joyce Theater

Of the many performance artists who focus on physical movement within a mixed-media format, Pooh Kaye would seem the least likely to turn toward choreography—that is, to realize her idiosyncratic kinesthetics on other bodies and to organize performing into dances. With her “wild child” persona (an infantilized female adult who scampered around topless while wearing a grass skirt), her singular unschooled movement, and her performance-as-play conceits, Kaye’s performances and films have been perfect examples of faux naïf events for nearly a decade. (Her principal mentor was another performer of extremely personalized idiosyncrasy, Simone Forti.)

Recently, with a company of freewheeling performers called, appropriately enough, Eccentric Motions, and with a new sense of critical objectivity, Kaye has begun to create more individually coherent, collaborative dance works within her trademark antic style. Active Graphics, 1986, featured a striking visual design, unusual costumes, and a mesmerizing musical accompaniment—composer Pat Irwin’s pulsing score for electronic keyboards, guitar, and horns. Black-and-white mats laid out at the center of a darkened stage were illuminated by squares of light, while three women in black-and-white unitards, cut like the racing suits of bicycle messengers, performed combinations of high-speed gymnasticlike exertions, with brief pauses for signature visual shapes (in particular, a shoulder stand with bent legs). These movements were first displayed in a breathtaking solo by Ginger Gillespie, whose exuberant skill indicated one of the essentials of good choreography—the presence of a gifted alter ego. Then the dance continued with solos by each of the women, and canon and unison sequences for all three of them together. Although it was visually and viscerally exhilarating, Active Graphics demonstrated that what is missing in Kaye’s evolving performance style is the clear statement of a strong idea. For most of the work’s 18-minute length, the through line was a formal one—the accumulating, reshuffled structure of its choreography—and its drama was drawn from the moment-to-moment, whiz-bang impact of its strenuous movement. For a finale, it simply stopped, begging any larger point that might have developed from its energies.

The other works on the program showed a new, similarly impressive grasp of collaborative performance elements and the same lack of emphatic ideas. Rebound About was like a stoned ballet, a festive gallop by suddenly limber-limbed dancers who fold up instead of pirouetting and who cuddle instead of posing. Set to a hilarious sound collage by Elizabeth Ross Wingate, which featured a tape of Arturo Toscanini conducting a rehearsal of La Traviata in 1946, and with mock-romantic costumes by Robin Klingensmith, the dance effectively asserted a wholly different—giddy—mood from that of Active Graphics, yet it too needed a more sharply honed point beyond mood-conjuring to drill home its wit.

Due to various technical difficulties, Kaye’s distinctive films, which, as usual, were to accompany some dances (among them, Active Graphics) and also to serve as entr’actes, were not shown. Their absence underlined the recent significant advances of Kaye’s performance work but also highlighted the principle that even skillful collage requires a conceptual single-mindedness to make its strongest case.

John Howell