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Re-Imagining Escher, Bacon & Rothko | ZviDance in New York
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Re-Imagining Escher, Bacon & Rothko | ZviDance in New York

Picture of Patricia Contino
Updated: 18 October 2016
There are many ways of ‘looking’ at art. The Internet and pricey books provide easy access, but nothing tops in-person viewing. Even when certain art lovers take painting selfies, the bond between the dedicated viewer and artist outlasts ridiculousness. Zvi Gotheiner is not only a choreographer, but also a trained visual artist who brings a keen eye to Escher/Bacon/Rothko, which had its world premiere at New York Live Arts.

The only common ground the lithographs of M.C. Escher (1898-1972) and paintings of Francis Bacon (1909-1972), and Mark Rothko (1903-1970) share is isolation. Yet, the graphic artist, portraitist and Abstract Expressionist’s creations draw in the viewer. Escher’s complicated compositions are in constant flux. Unpleasant as Bacon’s images are, they are hard to turn away from and impossible to forget. Rothko’s bold colors are worlds onto themselves.

The Israeli-born Gotheiner‘s modern dances are known for looking inside ‘the big picture’. Thus, the three artists provide him, his outstanding company of 11 dancers, and composer Scott Killian with the opportunity of going beyond the one-dimensional, which over the course of the evening-long piece, they do.

Not surprisingly, Escher is playful. Costume designer Mary Jo Mecca’s costumes are black-and-white like Escher’s creatures. The resemblance is further established by having the dancers flatten their feet in poses or in lifts that are deliberately executed facing the audience as they do on an Escher canvas. Gotheiner has the eight dancers form the familiar monumental geometric patterns reproduced on everything from tee shirts to computer screen savers. He moves his dancers not unlike individual puzzle pieces that dance alone, in duos, or small groups that fit back together. Only here the difference is that Escher’s figures suggest smiling and the cast really does.

Bacon was the shortest and most electrifying piece. Four dancers (Alex Biegelson, Derek Ege, David Norsworthy, Robert M. Valdez, Jr.) dressed in pants, shirts and ties line up across the stage. Electronic, disremembered voices moan as they mimic some of Bacon’s famously distorted faces in mental anguish. They remove their clothing and move first heavily, then aggressively. Bodies melt and hands twist in real or imaginary physical pain. There is a slight biographical allusion to Bacon’s destructive relationship with model and lover George Dyer when two dancers struggle and come to blows as the curtain falls. Gotheiner captures the artist’s style without showing it; something John Maybury also succeeded doing in the underrated Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998).

Rothko comprised the second half of the program. Eight dancers dressed in cobalt blue and black dance either alone or with the others along on the perimeter of the stage. Guided by Mark London’s lighting design, they create a frame. A voiceless electronic choir accompanies this simple, beautiful image.

Once they explore inside the frame, the dancers express a wide range of emotions. Alison Clancy’s extended solo was anxious but fearlessly executed. Derek Ege and Kuan Hui Chew kept coming together and moving apart. Dancers run rather than walk or glide through the black center. And still, they observe each other from the corner of each frame with the same serenity as visitors who visit The Phillips Collection’s Rothko Room in Washington, D.C. or his Chapel in Houston, Texas.

Of course, these observations are one point-of-view. Gotheiner’s intention is for audience members to create their own impressions. Escher/Bacon/Rothko’s aesthetic is not to lecture – but to connect.

ZviDance tour featuring Escher/Bacon/Rothko is in the planning stages.

New York Live Arts, 219 West 19th St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 691 6500

Patricia Contino