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Castles in the Sky

Andrea Miller’s Gallim Dance returned to the Joyce Theater, in New York, with a generous program titled “Bodies of Matter” that celebrated the company’s fifteen years. Miller’s body of work wrestles with nothing short of the dimensions of human experience. The work is defined by a rigorous creative process that Gallim dancers described, in a post-show Q&A, as “an honest collaboration.” This involves open-ended improvisation, movement generation exercises, and collective decision-making. The movement language continually reinvents itself, and that is why I am always in the audience.    

Performance

Gallim: “Bodies of Matter”

Place

The Joyce Theater, New York, NY, May 31, 2023

Words

Karen Greenspan

Gallim in “Castles.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

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The evening opened with “State,” a 2018 trio originally choreographed with Kyle Abraham company dancers. Set against a majestic gold-lit backdrop (lighting adapted by Burke Brown from the original design by Nicole Pearce), Gallim’s India Hobbs, Vivian Pakkanen, and Emma Thesing stood in silhouette, hunched and featureless. These dark, mythic forms planted their feet and raised fists skyward. They remained in place, repeating a tight rocking motion in unison as their arms moved through a series of sculptural or emotional gestures. The rocking motif aligned with the sultry repetitive score by Reginald Wilkins of the Pittsburgh electronic band Rivka. It was as if the dancers were rooting and soothing themselves in response to unsettling forces. 

Following a classic progression, the dancers then broke out of this confined condition into full-bodied expressions of fluctuating emotional states─desperation, desire, exhaustion, tension, aggression, steadying. The final section offered resolution and solace as the trio drew into a connected circle. Opening their arms and faces upward, the three separated again, backgrounded by the original golden glow. The dance’s form, light, and movement felt timeless, but the “chillwave” vocals and synthesized tracks tethered it to something less enduring.

Gallim in “State.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

“From,” a work reconceived from a 2019 collaboration with Juilliard dancers, was notable for its sculptural lifts and dramatic partnering. Set against a circle of lights mounted on the back wall (adapted by Brown from Pearce’s original lighting), the dancers wore skin-colored dancewear; they seemed like clay sculptures breathed into riveting motion.

The evening’s highlight was “Castles,” an abridged reimagining of Miller’s 2013 full-evening work, “Fold Here,” which premiered just days before she gave birth to her first child. The piece was inspired by Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedrals” and likely influenced by the mystery of impending parenthood. In the Carver story, a sighted man and a blind man share a transcendental moment by drawing a cathedral together. For the dance, Miller used cardboard boxes as a prop to explore dimensions—of a home, a relationship. Hence, the original title, “Fold Here,” a reference to instructions for making a three-dimensional container out of a flat surface. 

Andrzej Przybytkowski and Will Epstein’s evocative score set the scene with the stormy crash of instruments as dancers careened across the stage like matter blown by violent forces. The action built into wholesale chaos. Bodies converged in momentary shapes (like cresting waves) before dissolving into something else. With an expanded company of thirteen, the interdependent coming together into unfamiliar forms was wildly exciting. 

Gallim in “Castles.” Photograph by Rose Sutton

Eventually the religious tone of chimes ushered in large group sequences in a more formal language before the dancers began crawling on their backs with large cardboard boxes resting on their stomachs. Ensuing solos, duos, and trios delineated distinct relationships. In a duet with Sydney Chow and Nouhoim Koita, the box became a love object. Like parents of a newborn, they supported the box─continuously repositioning it between them. They danced around it. One partner carried the other, who held onto the box. And, in a final turn, they tossed it aside and ignored it. In another dynamic interaction, Donterreo Culp and Nouhoum Koita taunted  each other by keeping the prized box moving as in a game of Keep Away. 

Throughout the non-stop action, a sofa (propped up on its side), a card table, folding chairs, and a pot of flowers appeared. The dance climaxed with a no-holds-barred domestic scene. In a pas de deux suffused with slapstick humor and pathos, Sydney Chow and Gary Reagan portrayed a couple unable to connect. Surrounded by the trappings of domestic fulfillment (they managed to sit on the sofa right side up eventually), they tried to conform to the actions of a “happy couple.” But with each succeeding move─executed at a rapid fire─they reverted to their separate worlds. She is consumed with everything being in its perfect place; he just wants his space. The scene reached its tipping point with the couple piling up the furniture as a barricade between them. 

In the final act, the whole company repositioned the furniture while Reagan took a “time out” on the sofa and Chow clutched the flowerpot: two traumatized children clinging to their comfort rituals. Eventually, the two reconnected and the furniture gradually disappeared. Having tasted the endless invention of “Castles,” I do hope Gallim reprises the full work.

Gallim in “Castles.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

“No Ordinary Love,” to the Sade hit, is a small gem excerpted from “Duets for Jim.” In this love negotiation, Marc Anthony Gutierrez and Emma Thesing (at the performance I attended) stood at opposite ends of a lit diagonal and took turns dancing toward each other in a conversational plea for love. Tension and expectation built as the pace quickened. Ultimately, of course, they connected. 

Every company needs a closer like “Sama,” with its primal overtones building into explosive ecstasy. The piece takes communal trance ritual to new heights. Costumed in reddish-orange hues and galvanized by Nico Jaar’s pulsating score, the virtuosic Gallim dancers kept feeding the trance with undulations, spinning, trembling, jumping, and expansive rhythmic steps. Then, like a scene from ancient memory, a procession of women stood balanced atop men’s shoulders, thighs, or backs like nomadic princesses riding across desert dunes. Nouhoun Koita and Brian Testa flew across the stage in acrobatic solos. And two men pulled out the stops with a full throttle dance match on stilts. 

Just when you thought the dance could get no more exciting, “Sama” ratcheted up the frenzy, both carnal and spiritual. By the end, the Gallim dancers had transcended through their skin offering every molecule of themselves to the dance. I would say from the standing ovation that I wasn’t the only one sated by the experience. 

Gallim in “Sama.” Photograph by Rachel Papo

Karen Greenspan


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