Patricia Hoffbauer makes work that pushes audiences in unconventional ways. The promotional photograph for her latest work, “Dances for Intimate Spaces and Friendly People” at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, for example, shows performer George Emilio Sanchez in a pink bunny suit and a pink mouse mask seated between two “regular” guys on a park bench. Then, in the program, quoting E.L. Doctorow, she notes, “American writers are ‘less fervent about the social value of art.’ We worry that if a work is formed by ideas exterior to it … the work will be compromised and we’ll produce not art but polemic.” In “Dances for Intimate Spaces,” there is no room for worry, Hoffbauer goes all out. Not only does she orchestrate what we see, but how we see it. Audiences are given color-coded programs and a guide who walks us to and from each intimate space for the beginning and end of each intimate dance. In total, there are four intimate dances, and they happen all at once, in four intimate spaces, four times each until everyone comes together after they completed the circuit. Without warning, both viewer and, in a way, performers become an integral part of Hoffbauer’s whole.
Each intimate space offers a play on characters and relationships, a mixture of humor, cultural questioning, deconstruction of the classical and a walk down dance’s memory lane. If you weren’t a dancer, you might miss some of the humor and wonder why folks were doubled over in laughter. Probably because there were cryptic references to iconic works by Alvin Ailey and Merce Cunningham’s legacy, and that’s just a few. We sit, stand and listen in on conversations, laugh, and follow patterns, rhythms and nuanced innuendos. In the deconstructed “Le Corsaire Duet,” they fall with a thump, and we laugh at the irony of the classically costumed ballerina and her porter losing their conventional cool. We mark time with the women running drills and dressed in variations of sports paraphernalia.
“Are you comfortable?” one asks. “I’m getting a rash,” another answers in “Women’s Quartet.”
David Thomson, Jonathan Gonzalez and Kareem Alexander Hewitt in “Men’s Trio” are pointed and hilarious all at once. With Emilio Sanchez as the host who greets us, these three, dancing among three huge bouncy balls, sling quote after quote between nicely choreographed segments. They would say, “Black man down. No, ballerina down.”
This color-coded group ended with the all-star cast of Jennifer Way Rawe, Sara Rudner, Keith Sabado and Yvonne Rainer in “Super Trio,” another delightful and intimate dance that called attention to the advanced dancer-performer before everyone piles into one room, becoming one big group. Hoffbauer’s polemic?
The other performers are Alyssa Alpine, Peggy Gould, Ellie Kusner, Mor Mendel and Sharon Milanese.