Review: Joanie Smith explores self-infatuation in “Narcissus,” but the work feels a tad short.
This era of the “selfie” offers a perfect opportunity to revive the spirit of Greek mythology’s original self-enchanted dude in the world premiere of “Narcissus” by Shapiro & Smith Dance. On Thursday night at the Cowles Center, choreographer Joanie Smith revealed a work that captures the tension between individual obsession and social contact. While the effort doesn’t feel completely evolved, it raises interesting questions about whether the obsession with our faces marks a new era of isolation, even as we become more connected than ever.
Mirrors may be predictable props for this subject matter but Smith, collaborating with her talented performers, uses them in a variety of ways, most notably as a tool for partnering as well as a focal point for gathering so the dancers can gaze upon themselves or mock one another. The most beautiful scene is one in which Kari Mosel uses her mirror to create a shadow play on the wall while Andrew Lester struggles to capture the fleeting images. Scott Killian’s score is dreamlike, as if the two dancers are caught in an intimate world.
The work, however, ends soon afterward and the conclusion is premature. Until this point, Smith and the dancers have explored different avenues of individual absorption. But the brief relationship between Mosel and Lester offers a new direction that invites further exploration. Perhaps Smith meant this sense of synchronistic satisfaction to be temporary — as short-lived as a Snapchat photo.
The program also includes “What Dark/Falling Into Light” created in 1997 by Smith and her late creative partner/husband, Danial Shapiro. The work reflects upon the horrors of the Holocaust and it haunts because the text, written and recorded by Obie Award-winning playwright David Greenspan, is such a forceful questioning of how one depicts the unthinkable.
When the piece hits upon a possible answer — the dancers, nearly naked, their bodies contorted, struggling to support one another — it’s a startling yet necessary counterpoint to “Narcissus.” In one work we contemplate total self-involvement and in another we are reminded of the horrible events that occur throughout the world while we keep the camera trained upon ourselves.
“Dance With Two Army Blankets” (1995) and “Jack” (2013) are works with lighter themes that showcase the company’s keen sense of kinetic and comic timing.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.