Above: Gen Hashimoto of Jennifer Muller/The Works in THE WHITE ROOM. Photo by Paula Lobo.
Wednesday June 22, 2011 - This has been the season in which several New York City-based choreographers have offered full-evening works. Robin Becker's INTO SUNLIGHT evoked incidents from recent history which resonate strongly today; Nai-Ni Chen's DRAGONS ON THE WALL immersed us in poetic mystery and ritual while Takehiro Ueyama's SALARYMAN gave us a panoramic view of the white-collar world in contemporary Japan. Now Jennifer Muller has presented THE WHITE ROOM, a work that Kokyat and I have been following from early in its creative process.
At the Cedar Lake Theater, probably my favorite dance venue in Gotham, a full house watched the unfolding of Jennifer's two-act work in which myriad facets of human nature are explored. Set to a compiled score of cello-prominent music, THE WHITE ROOM takes us on a journey of innocence lost, the intricacies of personal relationships, and of man's quest to attain - and hold onto - power over the lives of others. Developing these themes, Jennifer Muller calls upon both the technique and the dramatic sensibilites of her beautiful and dynamic troupe of dancers who respond with performances that lure the viewer into the world of the individual characters.
Pascal Rekoert (Matt Murphy rehearsal image, above) is the big man here, both literally and figuratively. Pascal dominates the evening with his towering presence. This is a man who has carved out his own empire and who revels in his power over others. His wife and his mistress are firmly under his thumb; his entourage of henchmen and wannabes strive for his favor, jockeying for positions in the hierarchy which can shift at the snap of Pascal's fingers. Elizabeth Disharoon as his wife - striving to preserve a facade of dignity in her marriage - and Rosie Lani Fiedelman as the favored mistress maintain a constant conflict that seethes below the barely-civil surface. Yet Pascal, never satisfied, can brazenly ignore both spouse and concubine when a new face catches his fancy.
The virginal Hsing-Hua Wang is brought Into the harsh world of Pascal's power structure; in the opening moments of THE WHITE ROOM, clad in soft white, Hsing-Hua dances a joyful solo of youth and hope before being ensnared. Above (in Kokyat's rehearsal photo) Hsing-Hua's loss of innocence begins under the ever-watchful eye of Susanna Bozzetti. All evening, Hsing-Hua's lyrical dancing and her sense of bafflement at her fate gave the work its key element. Susanna, a pretty Italian girl, is transformed into a stern and severe headmistress and warden, keeping the girls under her watch on a tight leash. Brilliant work from both these attractive dancers.
As the enigmatic procurer, a man with his own agenda, Gen Hashimoto is the wild card in the community. Pascal can threaten him but Gen is his own man and can't be pinned down. Wearing a long black coat, Gen moves with alluring, catlike grace and brings an element of sorcery to his character. When he finds himself drawn to the delicate Hsing-Hua, Gen's guard momentarily comes down and we see his private passion beneath the manipulative surface. With his expressive features and hypnotic hands, Gen draws us to him whenever he is onstage.
Always observing the shifting allegiances and emotional attachments of the others, Abdul Latif ingratiates himself into Pascal's inner circle. Abdul's own penchant for cruelty and control is belied by his smiling, confiding expression. A dangerous element in this community where betrayal and deceit are ever-present, Abdul is an unsettling presence as he watches from the sidelines, waiting to seize his own opportunities. Abdul has his own novice-henchman: tall and handsome Duane Gosa wants badly to become an indespensible factor in the power scheme but he's perhaps too kind-hearted to get on Pasacal's good side. He's left straddling two worlds. Alvon Reed is in the dangerous position of having a thing for the boss's mistress. The boyishly handsome Mario Bermudez Gil brings a touch of innocence to the male-dominated inner sanctum.
Jen Peters is a sympathetic sister-figure and confidante; her dancing has a sweeping quality and silky extension. Seiko Fujita's delicacy of appearance is underlined by a strong technique as she makes her way under Susanna Bozzetti's relentless gaze; Seiko was clearly the most recent previous inductee into the WHITE ROOM.
Photo by Kokyat: Elizabeth Disharoon's queenly status as 'first lady' can be heartlessly diminished by her husband's whims. At one moment she appears elegant and assured, lording it over the competition. At a snap of Pascal's fingers she's dismissed or even disgraced. But she hangs on, like so many battered wives. One wonders how long ago it was that she herself came to the white room.
Rosie Lani Fiedelman (Kokyat's photo above) has perhaps the most touching role to play in THE WHITE ROOM. By virtue of her beauty and sensuousness she has risen to the top of the game that Pascal plays with those who fall under his thrall. But below her surface pride and self-assurance, Rosie's character is deeply vulnerable. Perhaps she is haunted by memories of her own arrival at the white room, and the knowledge that it can all be swept away should Pascal tire of her.
With this powerhouse assembly of dancers, the success of Jennifer Muller's THE WHITE ROOM was assured. Jennifer's instinctive touch in developing dramatic situations combined with the dancers' highly individualized responses to the characters and situations - maintained by the flow of movement - made this performance a high point of recent seasons.
At the end of THE WHITE ROOM, yet another novice (Olivia Jordan) arrives. Susanna Bozzetti begins to prepare the girl for what lies ahead as the restless, vigilant Gen Hashimoto waits in the shadows; the cycle continues.