Where are the programs? Are they on those cube benches in the middle of the stage? I think maybe I’ll change seats, so this hanging banner isn’t blocking my view of the dancer. Perhaps it’s OK to walk onstage, you think, maybe?
That’s how my internal dialogue unspooled as “Maybe,” a show by dancer-choreographer Shade Théret and visual artist Lukas Panek, got underway Saturday night at the Odyssey Theatre. “Maybe” kicked off the Odyssey’s annual dance festival, which runs into February with different Los Angeles contemporary dance companies featured each weekend.
Théret used to be an Angeleno but is now based in Berlin. (Her appearance was co-presented by the Goethe-Institut.) Tall and lanky, with an elastic and buoyant way of moving, Théret used “Maybe” to blithely toss out the theater conventions that audiences abide by. She and Panek turned the Odyssey’s black-box space into a gallery.
The house lights stayed up. Viewers could sit on the cubes and take in Panek’s sparsely decorated two-dimensional artworks. Two large pieces hung from the ceiling at different angles, which chopped up the performance space; the rest were affixed to the cement walls.
Throughout the 45-minute event, Théret repeated a string of casual but deceptively rigorous movement phrases in apparently random order. When she stopped, she’d lean against a wall or sit, becoming a nonchalant spectator. She joined a man in the front row at one point, speaking to him in whispers. The thrum of rain on the building’s roof became the accompaniment.
With the audience invited to ignore the normal rules of drama, “Maybe” became an experiment in human psychology. What would everyone do? Most people in the sparse crowd left their seats to peruse the artwork and get a closer look at Théret.
One man tied his plaid winter scarf around his head and started imitating Théret’s gestures, then dancing with other audience members. At first it seemed possible he was a cast member; he did become a distracting part of the show.
When Théret exited, everyone hung around, unsure what to do. But with the un-performer gone, the un-performance had surely ended. The papers left for us on the bench were not programs, it turned out, but rather, poems or word prompts, each unique. A sample: “What is going on? I don’t know. Wait we payed [sic] for this? I don’t mind.”
Fifty years ago, a group of artists met at the Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village for a workshop series that famously — and infamously — redefined what dance was. The shows reverberated like an earthquake, establishing that concert dance henceforth could be walking, running, stillness, eating, even sleeping. It was all fit for the stage.
Such experiments continue. Théret’s “Maybe” was like a cleansing sorbet, a little sweet but not very nourishing. Théret is an artist of beautiful dimensions, and her self-contained portrayal ended up a mere taste of dance, a tease. Was “Maybe” a step forward? Maybe not.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Dance at the Odyssey
Where: Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.
When: Through Feb. 10