I am always hesitant to review a dance piece negatively; I understand that it is a great act of bravery to put one’s choreography out into the atmosphere, subject to criticism and the paltry opinions of people who are bound to incorrectly interpret it. Whenever I find myself confronted with a piece that I do not favor, I try to find one or two truly redeeming qualities within it: the dancers’ facility; a moment of technical perfection; a transient but pleasing marriage of music and movement. But I found myself actively disliking Karole Armitage’s new work, Mechanics of the Dance Machine, which draws upon fractal geometry and voyeurism. (Ms Armitage originally planned to have audience members enter the stage space and wander amongst the dancers, to further the voyeuristic feel, but said she later realized that New York Live Arts provided a rather intimate venue on its own and that such measures were unnecessary.)

Abbey Roesner © Yi-Chun Wu
Abbey Roesner
© Yi-Chun Wu

Most of Ms Armitage’s painfully thin dancers appear to lack control. When not performing classical pointe or ballet work, they move with such abandon as to be unrestrained to the point of seeming poorly coordinated. Much of the piece felt unrehearsed and sloppily executed – particularly, a duet between Emily Wagner and Charles Askegard registered as cringeworthy. Lighting designer Clifton Taylor’s checkerboard pattern on the marley and red wash gave the space a distinctly creepy and segmented feeling, but the point of such was never made clear. Were the dancers different beings when in one part of the pattern, as opposed to another? Were there movement or performative restrictions that accompanied each section? The primitive, lust-filled atmosphere that the dancers indulged in never seemed to waver from one lighting cue to the next. (There was one exception: a duet between Masayo Yamaguchi and Jeffrey Sousa had an air of lightness and mischievous, which was a welcome if completely non-sequitur insertion.) I realized about two-thirds of the way through the performance that I had seen all variation I could possibly see; I needed only to wait out the piece and grit my teeth through yet another sultry, slinky duet.

Ms Armitage also made the bold decision to include several younger dancers, who were part of her Armitage Gone! Professional Project, which is an annual workshop of hers for young professional dancers. Although I applaud Ms Armitage’s decision to give younger, inexperienced dancers a chance to perform in a professional setting with a well-known company, I found myself distracted by the notable difference in technique and performance maturity between the guest dancers and Ms Armitage’s company members. I was also disturbed by the youngest of these dancers’ attempts to emulate the sex-crazed, come-hither eyes and scarily suggestive manner of slithering across the stage. It all felt too adult and uncomfortable.

It is important to note that many of Ms Armitage’s dancers not only exhibit tremendous balletic technique but also dance much of the work en pointe. I know that this is not a feat to be taken lightly: these performers have spent years honing more than one technique in the same amount of time that most dancers devote to just one dance form. But it is as if their talent is being spent on overt sexualization (almost to the point of discomfort) and not on the demonstration of their dance ability. I found myself confused throughout much of the performance – had Ms Armitage instructed her dancers to move as if they no longer had a connection to their centers? Was their flung abandon not just a sloppy, haphazard attempt at “contemporary” and actually a choreographic directive? I am a proponent of adapting a dance form in unexpected ways, but this was not the route to go.