We Are Released Mar 11, 2011

by Lyall

Sarah Michelson has said that experiences and the unknown are more important to her than explanations, but while Devotion, her new and brilliant piece, arrives at something like math-based bliss, the first part of it is a long spoken text with a soloist: a contemporary re-telling of the story of the Garden, the Explusion, Adam and Eve making babies up to age 900, Mary, the author’s mother. I didn’t look at the program until I left the theater so I didn't know as I watched that the first dancer who comes out, in a white t-shirt, white shorts and white gym shoes, and who sprints and spins, lunges and hunches in repeating motifs for a half hour, illustrating and not illustrating the text, is Spirit of Religion. (Other characters are Mary, Jesus, Adam and Eve.)

The narrative is delivered in the disembodied voice of planetarium narratives, and it’s the weakest part of the evening. Eventually, jump-cutting to the story of Mary, it grows a little waggish: “Mary was in a relationship with a man named Joseph,” goes one line. (It was written by Richard Maxwell, the founder of New York City Players.)

The opening, with its clinical view of the Fall: necessary? The voice stops abruptly, anyway, on a meditation about how this is all a story about kids, that “they got out.” At  which point we are all released. The soloist sprints out, two others in black and white track suits, sprint in and begin to revise her dance with beautiful and crazily precise variations on it: a duet that runs in a math-y fever alongside a Philip Glass score that is as repetitious and as stained-glass and as oceanically religious as anything he has ever written. It wiped away the story of original sin and redemption, and in a long set of sustained, dreamlike, repeating movements that made up the remainder of the performance it became – I kept thinking – a story not about devotion but love. Real love, the kind John Lennon sang about and that Socrates and Jesus talked about (but never put on paper).

The music shifts two or three more times in the next hour, and different pairs of dancers appear, in different, old-fashioned dress -- red bathing suits at one point -- all repeating similar motifs, all running speedily and gracefully from corner to corner, and sometimes lying down, up to the final couple (including the comically out-of-shape actor, Jim Fletcher) who arrive over and over at the far corner where they rehearse a trust-fall sort of pieta.

What I loved: the duration of the sequences, their spellbinding repetitions, the feeling in them of something being worked out at length in micro variations against the Philip Glass music which, as in Einstein on the Beach, becomes an overwhelming mode of singing into and out of the world.