Keely Garfield creates dances that plumb the emotionality of movement and its “subtle seismic changes.”
Under the banner of Sinister Slapstick, she has presented works that have been notable for their comic timing and eccentric intimacy. Her company has dropped that moniker, although the concept remains an undercurrent in her latest work, “Disturbulance,” which is much more sinister and much less slapstick.
Garfield arrived in New York from Britain in the mid-80s. The movement in her first performance works came “straight from ‘Punch and Judy’ and punk rock,” she explained, and reflected a particular time. Her work has gone through phases of development that reflect her own life experience and growth, and she groups the works accordingly. Costumes, wigs and doors figured heavily in the first phase, antics and theatrics in the next.
“I was dubbed early on as hilarious,” said Garfield. “I’m still hilarious, just older and sadder.”
Her trilogy of works in the ‘90s had a biographical element, and was presented in the context of the song narratives that accompanied them.
“Ultimately, I found myself frustrated that this was still distracting from the vocabulary,” she said. “What happens if I strip the narrative? I’ve always been abstract, but this brings the emotionality into extreme focus.”
In this finely crafted and disturbing, turbulent and nervously humorous duet, Garfield and the lissome Walter Dunderville enact a sad, frightening and, at moments, beautiful relationship of twin characters driven by separation anxiety. No matter how bad things get when they are together, nothing can keep them apart. Their actions, some of which cycle and repeat, range from pedestrian gestures of unison and interlocking phrases to competitive jumping, simulations of sex, violence and fits of apparent mania and depression.
Opposition is the central motif. The stage is set with a blue bench, a red comforter and white shelves. Matching red and white striped sequined gowns add to the wryly-patriotic art design. Garfield became an American citizen in 2003 but doesn’t believe that American artists need to “dumb it down.” Referring to the post-9/11 zeitgeist, she exclaimed, “I am not numb anymore. I am braver, bolder, and committed to say something, to communicate, to have a point of view.”
“There is no translation in Chinese for the word crisis,” continues Garfield. “The closest thing is ‘time for change.’ What happens when we become separated from ourselves––personally, politically? These subtle energies and anxieties precipitate change. I’m interested in harnessing or manifesting these energies. Change is good? Change is change and hang onto your hat.”
Marc Ribot wrote the original music for “Disturbulance,” including an odd and funny song about the Empire State Building.
The program at DTW also includes the premiere of “Scent of Mental Love,” which Garfield calls a “faux pas de deux” about manipulating and negotiating space and each other. It features dancers Paul Hamilton and Omagbitse Omagbemi, and original songs by Rachelle Garniez, which will be performed live.