As I wait in the queue to get into the theater for Sarah Michelson’s much-publicized Daylight, I am happily surprised to see that PS 122 is finally getting a paint job. A flat primer white replaces the grime that usually inhabits the narrow hallway. My companion is a Californian who has never been to PS 122, so acting the host New Yorker, I tell her proudly that we are about to enter a hallowed performance space, but apologize that it is one less than aesthetically ideal.
We enter a well-lit space bearing no relation to the dingy shabbiness of its usual self, imbued with a soft, machine-created, haze. PS 122’s pillars (which usually obstruct the audience’s view and the performers’ movement) have been incorporated into the architecture of three boxy bleachers made of blond plywood. The construction allows for only a shallow strip of performance space, running the full width of the theater. A throng of metallic stage lights cluster on either side, and more of them, attached all along the front of the boxes focus straight up, making a slightly menacing separation between audience and performers. The floor is painted a pastel blue, as are four larger than life Warhol-esque stencil portraits that lean against the walls. Having come here with an awareness of Michelson as a choreographer with an interest in changing perceptions of space, I should have expected this make-over, but am nevertheless surprised and excited. Now what will happen? And by who? We haven’t been given programs.
When four dancers step boldly out of the brightly lit upstage entrance, a hidden band, seated above and behind us, plays a wonderfully full version of the 1978 hit song “Baker St,” (I admit, I looked up it’s name online to write this article, but I instantly recognized the song as being from the 70s or early 80s, and so would you). The audience claps in recognition and approval. Here is something we know. This is about us! The dancers execute leap, kick, and turn in unison or in pairs, back and forth. Gold jewelry on all four dancers enforces the early 80s theme. Michelson and Parker Lutz wear identical couture party dresses, while Greg Zuccolo and Mike Iveson sport pink button-down dress shirts hanging out over their, wait...Did someone forget the men’s bottoms? No, their beige sweats and leggings are part of the chic—the tousled, I-just-got-out-of-bed look.
All of this glamour so close to us is exhilarating. The dancers look utterly confident, and the song’s accented words—“easy,” “happy,” “moving,” and “new morning”—are uplifting at first, until the true joylessness of the lyrics becomes apparent. Soon a hip-hop track replaces the live sound, but the dancers continue in the same formal but easy manner. While the sound score moves from maddeningly banal to dramatic, with both subtle and stunning shifts of lighting, the dancers maintain a blasé attitude throughout.
Michelson’s choreography—a combination of loping phrases, prolonged stillness, and actions that might hint at narrative or meaning—offer no discernable depth of feeling. The shifts of weight and poses continue in monotone. Nothing is off-balance. There is never a change of speed that might lead to a build up. At one point, Iveson hugs Zuccolo and Zuccolo slowly returns the embrace, looking out at us blankly. Michelson speaks into a microphone, or makes a gesture as if talking into a cell phone, but nothing is audible. Even when these people fight-whipping their arms in the air as if they’re beating each other with long-stem roses—it is trés faux. When the dancers slowly turn their heads to each other or to us, I am irritated by how pretentious they seem, by the lack of communication. I tire of the opacity.
So, I meditate on the portraits, which I can now tell are of the dancers’ faces aged by 10 or 15 years. I read them as a reference to our culture of youth and celebrity, and as Michelson’s mocking self-aggrandizement. It’s interesting, bitter humor.
A brilliant fake ending has dancers sashaying off stage. Many audience members who’ve gotten up to leave remain standing as the band leader (the young and talented Howie Statland) croons in a spotlight. Young dancer, Lindsey Fisher, performs one of the same phrases we’ve seen before but in the dark; her long blond hair is loose and she wears black rehearsal clothes that expose her belly. Fisher and Howie are generous, vulnerable soloists. It is in contrast to the previous cold quartet of dancers who elicit my sense of alienation. The juxtaposition is funny—I laugh out loud, relieved.
By withholding a bow, Michelson, Lutz, Zuccolo, and Iveson smartly keep their distance and power intact, so the humorous, even tender, tag doesn’t erase my feeling of alienation and abuse. Given her skills at manipulation, and the gallant support of her talented collaborators, I look forward to a dance by Michelson that ignores fashion and rips our hearts out.