INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
New York Times NOVEMBER 14, 2011 - by Brian Seibert
A CRAB WALK AMID QUIET OF A LIBRARY
At the New York Public Library on Sunday night the musician Ben Frost issued a sublime rejoinder to the institution's usual hush. The Rose Main Reading Room shook with the sound of six electric guitars being endlessly strummed and a brass sextet on the balcony. Before that, inside the entrance guarded by the library's marble lions, the Australian choreographer Lee Serle presented a dance.
The occasion was the culmination of the Rolex Arts Weekend, a series of discussions and performances tied to the Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative, a program that pairs young artists with masters for a year of collaboration. Mr. Frost's mentor was Brian Eno. Mr. Serle's was Trisha Brown.
For his P.O.V. Mr. Serle had arranged chairs for spectators to surround the hall's center. In that center was more seating: a grid of swivel stools designated for audience members with pink tickets. (My ticket was not pink; my point of view was from a chair at the edge.) Among the stools were aisles, up and down which Mr. Serle and three other dancers began to travel.
Mr. Serle's mentor, Ms. Brown, sat in a chair, her influence discernable in the work's meticulous structuring and in its swung, follow-through mechanics. (P.O.V. also seemed related to Corridor, a dance by Lucy Guerin in which Mr. Serle has performed.) As dance phrases alternated with little breathers of casual walking, the dancers progressively introduced more ways of crossing the grid, at first skimming past the people on the stools, then staring at them.
Viewers became the viewed. Some spectators became participants, as the dancers whispered in their ears. Mr. Serle gave a woman a neck massage. That was one way to make the rest of us feel left out. The dancer Kristy Ayre equipped a man on a stool with a pair of headphones, donned a pair herself and boogied before him to music nobody else could hear. It was a parody of a lap dance, especially when Ms. Ayre sunk into full splits at the man's feet.
Mr. Serle repeated the dual-headphone communion with another pink-ticketed attendee (who happened to be Peter Sellars, this year's Rolex Mentor in theater). But where Ms. Ayre's dance was comic, Mr. Serle's was strange, robot-staccato with clawed fingers.
Taking another man's hand, the dancer Rennie McDougall asked, "Is this O.K.?" Then he inserted his head into the man's armpit, his knee between the man's legs, repeating his polite question after each step. Mr. McDougal's dance colonized the man's lap. More encounters ensued, more than one at time.
Back in the aisles, as at the beginning, the dancers finished with a version of Mr. Serle's routine for Mr. Sellars, their hands crab-walking their bodies in increments, as if to count. If P.O.V. was ultimately less perspective shifting than amusing, it was a skillful apprentice exercise. That's O.K.