New York

Victoria Marks

Public Art Fund | Lincoln Center

The overheated affair between post-Modern dance and theater that has been going on for over a decade shows no signs of cooling off, despite a recent lack of inspired offspring. Victoria Marks is one of the few young choreographers who has thought her way through the pervasive influence of heavily theatricalized dance, both American (Karole Armitage, Twyla Tharp) and European (Pina Bausch, Maguy Marin), to create work that successfully exploits theatrical elements in movement terms without pandering to bastardized forms of glitz and/or heavy-handed theme-mongering. Her accomplishment is perhaps partly a result of her lack of kinetic ideology—Marks eschews esthetic party lines.

In previous works, Marks took her choreography to multimedia extremes, with slide projections and film sequences layered over the constantly rising and falling dancers to produce a dense, shifting mise-en-scène that employed several esthetic languages simultaneously. In one new work, Dancing to Music, 1988, she turns toward a Beckettian economy, conjuring a maximum of dramatic emotion out of carefully constructed, pared-down staging and choreography. Marks deploys a static quartet of dancer-performers in a fuguelike drama, which is conveyed through simple vernacular gestures. Dressed in schoolgirls’ winter coats and standing as if waiting for a bus, the four generic characters are fixed in individual pools of light from which they never move. Their movement vocabulary is limited to a repertory of looks, from sidelong glances to fixed stares, and a few arm and torso motions. In the beginning, the movement indicates that the four are strangers to each other; as the dance-drama progresses in phrases that grow more complex, they make contact and finally became friends, establishing a gang of four that exhibits a range of group dynamics, from friendship to alienation. Wim Mertens’ moody, Chopin-like piano score (which includes murmuring voices) underlines the autumnal, turbulent, and achingly vulnerable mood. In the manner of Beckett, the dance suggests expanded possibilities through a condensed arrangement of the closely observed rituals of daily life.

Fiction, 1988, demonstrates Marks’ polymorphous approach to achieving theatrical thrills within movement. The piece studies romantic clichés to humorous effect. Its narrative, of a confident, peppy, princesslike woman pursuing a wimpy, stumbling prince-type character, alludes to the story line of the 1979 movie 10, a reference underlined by the use of Ravel’s Bolero as a score (it is the music heard in the film’s climactic role-reversed seduction scene, when a nonchalant Bo Derek vamps a wilting Dudley Moore). There are also hints of other ballets in Fiction’s nymph/satyr goings-on, with a subplot of flirtation by a chorus of men and women framing the story of the flirting yet uncoupled principles. The happy ending in which the duo is suddenly thrust together in an embrace, sets Fiction even further apart from Dancing to Music, which simply fades into darkness for a finale. The mood in Fiction is frivolous and lighthearted, but the work is of a piece with Marks’ larger choreographic ideas. Her work insists that the consequences of overt drama in dance result in some kind of narrative through line and clear emotional affects. Rarely have such lessons from Drama 101 been put to such effective use by a choreographic newcomer.

John Howell