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Nice Choices, Mr. Boal!
Marcie Sillman, And Another Thing...
March 17th, 2014

Photo © Angela Sterling

 Molissa Fenley made "State of Darkness" for herself in 1988. She was inspired by Igor Stravinsky's 1913 masterpiece, "Rite of Spring." Fenley writes that, at first, she played a recording in her studio and simply moved to the music. Then she realized she was creating a full blown dance. The PNB performance is accompanied by a live orchestra. The lush, full sound is an interesting juxtaposition to the solo dancer onstage, bare-chested and dressed in a simple pair of black capri-length pants.

Fenley is very slim, and in a videotaped performance from 1992, with her hair cropped short, she presents an androgynous, almost elfin persona. PNB's Jonathan Porretta, on the other hand, is solid and compact. With his dark hair hanging loose almost below his ears, Porretta commands the stage with a barely contained ferocity. Sometimes it was like watching a caged, semi-feral animal as he kicked his legs and slashed his arms to Stravinsky's percussive passages. In the dance's gentler moments, Porretta pulled back inside himself. He seemed to withhold his intensity for a few minutes, (and maybe gather more energy) only to unleash himself later on.

Porretta lends a vast quantity of charisma and drama to any material he performs. (Go see him dance the role of Mercutio, for example, in Jean-Christophe Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette.) In "State of Darkness," he undulates from mid-torso, steps gently in circles, forcefully swings his head down and up, whipping his hair across his face. Fenley has created a series of precise arm and hand movements for this dance. At times, Porretta extends his arm toward the floor, his hand palm up, then flipped down, then up again, as if he's a farmer sowing seeds. At other moments, Porretta dances laterally across the stage, facing the audience. The movements evoke the images I've seen from Nijinsky's 1913 Paris version of "Rite of Spring."

As the musical energy builds, you hold your breath, waiting for Porretta to let loose one of his technically dazzling jetes across the stage. And you keep waiting, because Fenley doesn't give us that release until later in the dance. The tension escalates, the caged animal paces, then finally explodes with a burst into the air.

"State of Darkness" demands endurance: it's 36 minutes long. It also demands intellectual concentration. Jonathan Porretta delivered both on opening night. At times, he surveyed the audience, his dark eyes almost ferocious, daring us to keep watching him. Porretta is an audience favorite: his technical abilities coupled with his dramatic skills make him stand out on stage. But with this performance, I felt like I was watching an artist who had marshaled all his training, his life experience and his talents.What a transcendent dance experience!

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