This weekend, Katie Workum presented Carlisle at Dance New Amsterdam. The piece’s opening is promising: three open doors stage right flood the stage with light from the offstage rooms. A few leafless tree branches and some bark glued onto a column suggest a desolate outdoors landscape, making the unadorned columns in the space potential trees rather than obstructions to our gaze. The stage left mirror, usually concealed during performances, is left exposed and used to reflect glaring light from stage right, a trick that increases the volume of the space and creates the illusion of another dimension. Onto this bare stage, four dancers crawl like creatures from a different evolutionary stage, slithering onto the ground and testing the solidity of the floor.
Unfortunately, the clarity of the opening scene and of the mood suggested by the lighting and set, quickly dissipate into a piece with unclear structure and concept. In particular, the relationships among the performers on stage remain vague: there are a couple of more developed interactions (such as the arm and hand wordless duets that take place on two occasions), but the different scenes in the work do not connect, and it is not clear what the dancers are here to do.
One of the most puzzling aspects of the performance is the unresolved relationship between two distinct bodies of dancers: the initial quartet of young, white women (two blondes and two brunettes), and a group of six Asian women (all Korean, as we learn in the program) who on five separate occasions enter the stage and perform movement sequences reminiscent of traditional Indonesian dancing. The Korean women wear glittery tight dresses that differentiate them from the white dancers, who are dressed in short, loose fitting, cotton jumpsuits. While on several occasions the quartet directly addresses the audience with words and songs, the Korean performers only join the quartet for a final song and dance phrase. There is no clear relationship between the two groups of dancers, or between the movement phrases that they perform. The secondary role played by the Asian dancers is almost offensive, containing an implied passivity without any trace of commentary on the part of the choreographer. Why are these dancers in the same space?
Carlisle is an ambitious project that could benefit from some rigorous editing and refocusing of intention. It appears like the choreographer wants to tackle many different ideas, but in the process forgets the common thread that ties them all together. Workum is most successful when she deals directly with abstract movement, and focuses on a particular relationship—such as the performers’ relationship to the floor in the first part of the piece. Overall, however, Carlisle feels more like a composit of choreographic experiments than a coherent full-length performance, and Workum should consider a revision, particularly in consideration of her international cast.