Diana Szeinblum's Alaska Nov 6, 2009
Does a series of forceful, compelling moments amount to a show? Diana Szeinblum’s Alaska, performed by a quartet of untiring, impervious and inconsolable dancers, consists of a chain of incidents that compound subtly over the course of a quick hour. The result is not so much a play, as the director describes it, as an artwork that offers physical evidence of things that never happened. Early on in Alaska, I thought of Richard Maxwell, playwright and director of the New York City Players. Not because both artists come from the theater but because of the restraint they share: As Maxwell trusts his performers to deliver meaning without necessarily acting, Szeinblum knows that the mechanics of the human body don’t always need expressive overlay to achieve dramatic effect. Leticia undulates. Pablo looks away. I take a breath. But unlike Maxwell, whose characters often face the audience, Szeinblum creates a solid fourth wall—with one conspicuous (and weak) exception. Generally, the characters in this third person drama disregard the audience as animals in a documentary disregard the camera, as living people disregard ghosts. We watch these characters. We watch their relationships; we watch to see whether they will change because it’s so interesting to see people change. When they cycle through patterns of behavior instead of changing, it’s disturbing—no matter how abstract their world is. These characters seize one another and turn from one another, consistently uncomfortable in each other’s presence. We watch them cycle, their loyalties, sorrows and mysteries engulfed in shadows. Though it’s intense, Alaska is just this side of extreme, which gives it surprise. Szeinblum exploits repetition, but ideas are interrupted before they get dizzying. The performers pick up those dropped threads: Lucas transposes Alejandra’s violent torso thrust to a horizontal plane, making terrific use of the manipulation technique that otherwise grows a little tiresome. Unison arm movements shared by the men are different on a boy-girl couple. Subtle shifts, rather than severe repetition, provide the punch. Despite its intensity and a sudden special effect, Alaska never explodes but fades like the bizarre and possibly brilliant train of thought you have just before sleep. As the dancers sit listening to the music near the end, the light misses them. Shadows swallow them all. Perhaps this world belongs in darkness—these interior corners don’t normally see the light of day. As dim panels of light cross the stage, we get the sense the cycle will continue without us, in darkness. The musicians leave their instruments but the music goes on through the bows, accompanying us faintly as we exit.
- Dayna Hanson