Danspace Project, the forward-thinking venue in Manhattan’s East Village is currently (through mid-June) home to a platform dedicated to, and curated by, the choreographer D.D. Dorvillier, a long-time influencer of the contemporary dance milieu on this side of the big pond. While the platform surveys Dorvillier’s choreographic output to date, it is more of a reflection on the choreographer’s part – for the audiences benefit, as well as her own – of her oeuvre with an eye towards the future, rather than a retrospective. While much of this month-long event focuses on a series of indoor and outdoor interventions, aptly titled A catalogue of steps, the centerpiece of Dorvillier’s Diary of an image platform is an eponymous evening-length work, presented this evening in its world première at Danspace’s home, St. Mark’s Church.

Dorvillier, Diary of an image © Ian Douglas
Dorvillier, Diary of an image
© Ian Douglas
While the work is indeed a première, in many ways it also feels like a homage to some of Dorvillier’s loyal collaborators, and indeed to her own self. The stage area, surrounded by pillows (featuring printed pages of the catalogue that accompanies the platform) is dynamically adorned with three mirror cutouts representing the dance artists Jennifer Lacey, Sarah Mitchelson and Jennifer Monson. Early on in the evening’s work, the three figures become protagonists in what the composer Zeena Parkins refers to as the Morse Code Opera, as different monosyllabic “tweets” (performed in a recording by Dorvillier) emanate from different speakers to create a dialogue that is complexly layered, and yet utterly undecipherable. As it turns out, taking a form or convention that is superficially familiar and reframing it into something that is more mysterious and unrecognizable is a strategy deployed by Dorvillier throughout the Diary’s four chapters. This particular section, for instance, does not feature any choreography whatsoever – as intended in “moving bodies”, at least. And yet, Parkins’ sonic interventions, in concert with Thomas Dunn’s architectural lighting and the mirrored figures by Olivier Vadrot, create an almost palpable sense of movement in a space devoid of human presence.

To rewind a bit: the very opening of the piece subverts expectations to a similar extent, with the composer walking deliberately across the stage towards a grand piano which, as it turns out, is fitted with EBows. Once Parkins sits down, there is a minimal amount of movement in her performance – it more or less amounts to a gentle step on a pedal – and yet, this simple action triggers a richly layered sonic environment, filling the air with an organ-sounding composition which, in turn, somehow really calls attention to the architecture of the church hall.

Dorvillier, Diary of an image © Ian Douglas
Dorvillier, Diary of an image
© Ian Douglas

By the time moving bodies (a single body, to be exact – Dorvillier’s, as you may have guessed by now) enters the stage, nearly one half of the performance has already elapsed. There is something in the choreographer’s movement – in its resemblance to an abstract game of hopscotch – that invokes the past: as I watch her perform extended iterations of this nimble footwork, I am reminded of her 2012 production, Danza Permanente, which in a nutshell was a choreographic transposition of a Beethoven string quartet, with each performer “dancing” one of the instruments – minus the actual score, of course.

It is only in this work’s final section that another dancer (Katerina Andreou) emerges, intermittently as a soloist and the choreographer’s dancing partner. As a sound of copier machines drones in the background, and a sliver of light piercing through the hall’s entryway begins scanning the interior, Andreou indeed appears as Dorvillier’s visual echo, replicating the steps and floor patterns seen in the previous section with exactitude. The vocabulary that was methodically being introduced in the earlier sections of the work is reappropriated, recombined and juxtaposed. This results in an orgiastic cacophony of images, sounds, reflections and movements, allowing a glimpse into the creator’s mind. Finally, the work’s complexity is revealed, negotiated by Dorvillier with a gentle yet confident touch.

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