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With its lush lawns, decaying, and abandoned houses, Governor’s Island can feel like a performance installation even before the first actor arrives. But Jody Oberfelder will enhance its theatricality with this dance theater piece that winds through an officer’s home as audience members monitor their heart rates.

Saturdays, Sundays, 11:30 a.m., 1, 2:30, 4 & 5:30 p.m. Starts: July 6. Continues through July 21, 2013

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Walter Dundervill and Jody Oberfelder Probe the Past

A little over a week ago, I wrote about the thrills and perils of deconstruction and the popular dance of fragmentation. Now comes Walter Dundervill with Dear Emissary, in which time travel becomes the vehicle for picking apart and layering enigmatic events. In an interview with Gia Kourlas that appeared in Time Out New York, Dundervill (a gifted performer and multi-talented theater artist) revealed that the cast of this new piece of his plays members of a 1970s troupe, who are in turn looking back at the late 1920s. Key films made in the ’20s (such as G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box)—or with subject matter from that decade—figured as source material (along with a lot of other stuff).

Whew! I don’t know whether the spectators who trekked out to the Chocolate Factory knew all that. Dundervill evidently felt they didn’t need to; he didn’t put the information in the program. This is an evening rife with mystery and laden with questions; luckily it’s also full of striking theatrical effects. If you arrive before 8 p.m., or even some minutes afterward, you descend the short flight of steps to the Chocolate Factory’s shabby, low-ceilinged basement to confront a series of tableaux vivants. Arranged at one end of the long, narrow space are racks of costumes and an arrangement of low platforms and chairs on which are posed seven members of the cast wearing 1920s attire. From time to time they change positions, as if an invisible photographer were doing publicity shots.

We sit on chairs (not enough for everyone) at the side or wander around staring. Which is how we discover what they could be gazing at beside a non-existent lens. Opposite them, in a recess the size of an elevator, two figures wrap around each other in every way they can. In this slow struggle, they could be mating or wrestling or striving to find warmth and comfort in a space smaller than the one they actually inhabit. It’s hard to tell because they’re wearing bulky, rough-cut suits of unbleached muslin, and their heads are covered by mesh bags, tied on at the neck with long, black ribbons.

When they stand up and emerge, it’s to entertain us with slow, repetitive stepping patterns. The others have left and gone up to the main performing area, and the intermittent thuds we hear are made by the costumes that they’re throwing down through a shaft into the recess.

We trudge up and take our seats along one long side of the theater. In the ribbon of space in front of us, several women in vintage high-heels and short, wraparound muslin dresses are lying or standing with paper drums (or hatboxes) on their heads. Things begin to sort themselves out. The women turn out to be Patricia Beaman, Biba Bell, Megan Byrne, and Jennifer Kjos. They’re most active as a kind of chorus, swaying dreamily, framing the rest of the action, and making fierce forays up and down the room, strutting and kicking their legs high with every step. Once, as they go, they sing, “Yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me,” along with Leonard Cohen (the sound score put together by Justin Luchter also contains songs by the Rolling Stones and Lioness). Ben Boatright, Janet Dunson, and Kevin Lovelady are costumed in more or less regular attire, and it is they who gather around a small table to talk, or stand in a series of locations indicated by sketchy scenes painted on cardboard that Dundervill and Benjamin Asriel periodically rush in and hold up behind them.

These two, the former denizens of the recess, function as stage managers, arranging thin door-sized slabs along the wall so that their white sides show, later reversing them to reveal their brown backs. Carrie Woods’s lighting sometimes turns the whole space blue or red or as multicolored as a disco.

In the repeating, shifting conversations, the performers use their real names, and once, a deep, gradually slowing voice gives stage directions. Boatright, Dunson, and Lovelady deliver their lines with a certain mechanical precision, which occasionally gives way to high emotion. The dialogue is succinct: “I’m leaving.” “Why? Because he doesn’t love you?” There’s a scene in a hospital; Boatright (sometimes Lovelady) lies on the floor and the other two hover. Each time the conversation is repeated, its meaning shifts. Sometimes the visitors hope the patient will die. Sometimes they appear grief-stricken. Sometimes they tell him to get up. “He’s gone” can have two meanings.

The four high-stepping women take off their white tunics to reveal silver ones. Over black tights, Asriel and Dundervill don coats made of the basic unbleached cotton; intriguingly cut, these suggest early modernist constructions (Dundervill designed the costumes and scenic elements). These two and Kjos step out in some of the evening’s most exhilarating dancing, expanding all the steps we’ve seen, covering space as they kick and turn, leaping. They soothe the hapless Boatright (who’s never answered the question he’s been asked several times about when he’ll get back to writing poetry) and dress him in new attire. The women reappear—a time-traveling, bleached-out costume parade. Beaman has the bulky panniers of an 18th-century woman, Bell’s gray wig suggests Marie Antoinette, while Byrne and Dunson wear post-Revolution garb. One at a time, all the performers except Asriel and Dundervill lie down on the white panels that have now been laid on the floor. The two men pace amid the entombed past.

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The references to process anchor Dear Emissary in 2010. The music and lighting evoke the 1970s, and a number of the costumes allude to the 1920s. How Dundervill sees these decades relating, beyond his interest in them, is one of the evening’s provocative mysteries.


Jody Oberfelder is a survivor, celebrating her company’s 20 years of existence and, by extension, her own longer career performing, teaching dance, making films of it, and choreographing for opera and theater. Pondering her relative longevity on the scene, you might posit that this small, wiry, onetime gymnast has upended herself in headstands and flips so many times that her blood circulates more efficiently than most people’s. But I tend to think that something more than her fast-twitch muscles and brain keeps her going: her evident love of dance and her enthusiasm for every aspect of it.

Oberfelder isn’t into mystery. She makes bright, clear, gutsy, often very funny pieces. She’s not afraid to be corny. In planning her 20th anniversary season at the Abrons Arts Center, she winnowed out bits from some of her best works, re-vamped them, and wove them into a fast-moving show, prefaced by Nic Petry’s elegant montage of film clips. You can follow through the evening how milestones in Oberfelder’s life and career affected her work. Here she is in “Tabula Rasa/Midlight” from her 2006 LineAge (the piece in which she announced her age by chalking five groups of five lines plus 2 on the floor), treading a lifeline chalked on the floor, erasing as she goes. In “Id on a Grid” from the same piece, she’s joined by original cast members Elise Knudson, Rebekah Morin, and Carlton Ward, along with Aditi Dhruv and Jake Szczypek, in a repeating group of images that involve a fallen person, with another rushing in to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and yell, “Call 911!” People are lifted and dropped. Maybe that’s what you get if you walk on your hands and head a lot. But when the four hold hands and walk upstage, one of them just happens to be upside down.

Luke Gutsgell and Brandin Steffensen reprise a lusty, acrobatic duet from the 2008 Heavy Light. Brynne Billingsley and Szczypek recreate Hansel and Gretel’s plight from Oberfelder’s The Story Thus Far, inspired by the stories by the Brothers Grimm (2004), their lifting and clinging to each other the product of fear. Knudson and Ward perform a fine duet from The Title Comes Last (2006). However, some of the evening’s most charming passages focus on women. In a revival of the 1994 Wanted X Cheerleaders, Lynn Neuman, Cydney Pullman, Jule Ramirez, and the choreographer twitch their red-skirted butts and shake their boobs. They also have to remind one another that they can no longer identify themselves proudly as being over 40; that number has gone up by ten. They mock college cheerleaders (“virgin sluts”) and their flirty, rah-rah routines, while chanting their championship of lusty age and reminding us of real female workouts (Oberfelder, lifted by her friends, grimaces and groans in mock childbirth).

In the early 1990s, Oberfelder made a film (with Ben Ben Speth) of her pregnant naked self dancing, and followed that, in 1996, with Expectant Tango for six extremely pregnant women. We see them on film in red gowns; then with a bit of theatrical slight-of-hand, they’re replaced in a dim glow (Kathy Kaufman designed the masterful lighting) by six figures in green, their backs to us. When they turn, they reveal teen-aged kids in front of them. Some of these parents are the women in the film, although they’ve been joined by others, including a father, Lynn Brown. The parent-child duetting is loving, but tough, with the occasional child (Cate Hurlin, for instance) already showing dancerly chops. Then to the continuing taped song Rock Me Mama (lyrics written and sung by Tine Kindermann and Oberfelder, guitar by Steve Houseplan), five dancer-mothers perform holding their infants. Simple movement, yes, but very skillfully choreographed, and the babies are downright professional; one front and center wins hearts by clapping its tiny palms together and flashing numerous smiles.

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In recent years, Oberfelder has branched out into choreographing and directing opera. Based on the excerpt she showed at the Abrons from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (staged in 2008 for the Orchestra of St. Luke’s), I wish I’d been able to see the whole work. As in The Story Thus Far excerpts, the musicians are onstage (in the Hansel and Gretel episode, Kindermann, singing the role of the Fairy Godmother, interacts with the two dancers). Kamala Sankaram sings Dido’s part in the Purcell opera, and the superbly expressive bass-baritone Andrew Nolen plays Aeneas. Melody Fader handles the keyboard, and the remarkable Malina Rauschenfels switches back and forth between cello and violin, while also voicing the Sorceress. The most imaginative scene features Ward on stilts as the Sorceress. When he swings his subordinate witches (Billingsley, Dhruv, and Szczypek) into the air and drops them, they look like munchkins.

By the time the evening is over, the final event, Crash Helmet Brigade (a re-mix of Oberfelder’s 1986 solo) has brought a horde of dancers and musicians onstage. No wonder Alice Teirstein looks as if she’s been caught in the middle of a traffic onslaught while crossing the street. Wearing helmets and bright-colored jerseys, scrimmaging to music by X, Le Tigre, and the Slits, the performers have at the air, the floor, and one another’s skulls. It’s kind of a mess (under-rehearsed maybe), but it captures the zest for headlong, endearingly human dancing in an upside-down world that Oberfelder has cultivated for 20 years.

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REAL WILD ONE

Modern-dance choreographer and former punk-rock singer Jody Oberfelder has spent the past 20 years perfecting her creative, witty dances, for which she was named Outstanding Choreographer at last year’s FringeNYC Festival. In honor of her 20th anniversary, the Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects premieres Heads or Tales, a wild retrospective comprised of excerpts from her many highly praised, colorful works. Joining her company of eight dancers will be more than 35 guest performers, dancing, singing, or appearing in one of her films. The entertaining evening includes everything from Head First, her 1986 crash-helmet piece, to the fantastical 2002 The Story Thus Far, based on fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.

March 11-13, 2010

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Lines, Lines, Lines

Jody Oberfelder is 52?!. Hard to believe, but here she is—a small, robust, radiant athlete—chalking groups of five lines plus two on the stage. The solo isn’t about age, but the way she lies on the floor and draws determinedly around her body, struggling and contorting to be both the person drawing and the person being outlined, is a potent metaphor for the issues of image and self-image that arise during a dancer’s later years. And as Oberfelder backs along the line she’s drawn while entering, we hear in Coleman Hough’s taped text, “You see the rest of your life disappearing as you go.”

Not to worry about Oberfelder’s immediate future. In the same section of her new LineAge, she executes slow pirouettes standing on her head, and when she collapses and her dancers rush in to perform CPR and repeat, “Are you okay?” it’s clear that she most certainly is.

The title of the piece gives Oberfelder the choreographer lots of wiggle room. That she took advantage of it may be why LineAge, despite many striking ingenious passages, doesn’t have the force of her marvelous 2002 fairytale piece, The Story Thus Far, or the focused clarity of Tangram, her 2003 play with geometric shapes. It can’t have been easy to attempt to meld concepts of lines (as designs, as timelines, as wrinkles on a face), lineage, and aging and emerge with a meaningful whole. The 10 sections of the piece form a sort of modern dance revue with occasional inserted reprises reminding us that one thing relates to another.

Ropes lying along the floor—pulled, wiggling and looping, by offstage hands—only resemble lifelines if you’re primed to think so. And only if you remember that a section is listed as “Outline of a Life (with you),” do you see the formal designs made by Elise Knudson, Rebekah Morin, and Carlton Ward as a progression—except perhaps when they and Oberfelder hold hands to form a chain and the last person keeps worming and crawling and climbing his or her way to first place, or when one dancer travels by walking on the others’ shoulders.

The choreography for Oberfelder’s strong, agile colleagues builds multiple evolving structures that require acrobatic skills and make few gender distinctions between Ward and the two women. But at some point I get the impression that creating ingenious linear designs with bodies has trumped the more profound aspects of Oberfelder’s themes. Knudson and Morin’s midair duet in harnesses may relate to intense, spoken lines mentioning flight that I can’t quite take in (the variegated selections of music compete with and occasionally obscure Hough’s poetry), but it registers primarily as an attractive act, made exciting when Ward enters and swings the women around in the glow of Kathy Kaufmann’s lighting.

Because the human element so often surrenders to the skillful patterns, I treasure the moment when Morin, supine on top of Ward, can’t easily get out from under Knudson who’s lying on top of her, and has to deal with that problem. A film (cinematographer: Ronald K. Gray) introduces the beautiful lined face of 80-year-old dancer-educator Martha Myers, intercutting closeups of her rapt gaze with shots of the dancers in handsomely framed beachscapes, performing some of the same actions they show onstage. The alternation of the two elements vaguely suggests a modern-dance lineage, as does a shot of Oberfelder carrying Myers. I get the point, but I’m hungry for the camera to linger on Myers, whose face tells us much about what it means to be old in years and young in spirit—about seeing the world with wondering eyes.

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Dance

Oberfelder Makes Strong Moves With a Sanguine Attitude


Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects

Joyce Soho

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As a performer, Jody Oberfelder comes across as a feisty woman of middle years. Thanks, no doubt, to her background in gymnastics, she’s a model of physical strength and flexibility, and her matching persona is all straightforward gutsiness. As a choreographer, she’s equally down-to-earth. Her new Landmarks of Dreams exudes a humanism rooted in reality. Many of the solos, duets, and small-group vignettes that constitute the piece have a colorful, playful air typical of a circus with theatrical aspirations, their vocabulary cheerfully mixing acrobatics, ethnic dance, and the ingenious cantilevering of contact improv. The emotional horizon expands gradually. Oberfelder has a long meditative solo, based on Marc Chagall’s colorful dream imagery, that evokes both joys experienced and longings unfulfilled. Even the darker vignettes refuse to give up on life, presenting discord with understanding. Her choreography is a patchwork affair, but its mood is winning.


A small troupe provides lyricism worthy of the masters

Fugate/Bahiri Ballet NY

Symphony Space

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A chamber-scale group catering to an audience that lacks access to big-time companies like ABT and NYCB, Fugate/Bahiri Ballet NY (formerly DanceGalaxy) offered a something-for-everyone program. Two duets probed issues that drive lovers into couples therapy—Peter Martins’s Reflections (vehement and edgy) and Thaddeus Davis’s brand-new Vivaldian Chat (all powerful, voluptuous musculature). Ann Marie DeAngelo’s lurid and incomprehensible A Glimpse, inspired by Théophile Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin, offered characters, situations, philosophy of art—everything but coherent choreography. Though these pieces were handsomely performed, the troupe was at its ravishing best in two small masterworks of lyrical dancing—Antony Tudor’s serene Continuo, with its miraculous floating lifts, and George Balanchine’s Valse-Fantaisie, a windswept bagatelle that restores your faith in romance. The Balanchine, staged by Judith Fugate, an NYCB alum and the most musical of dancers, is a perfect tribute to the choreographer on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

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Dance

Jody Oberfelder is very small and very strong—and a dance generation or two older than her live performers. She’s set herself, for this week’s run at the Joyce Soho, one of the trickiest challenges choreographers face: making a piece based on visual art. Her inspiration here is Marc Chagall. But, she says, “if people didn’t know it was based on Chagall, it wouldn’t bother me.”

“Making a dance is always about moving energy,” she observes, describing the way this one is being assembled. “lt’s very layered, with foreground and background, dealing with midlife and end-of-life, hope and despair. It has a big range of human spirit, from really gay to really melancholy—holding on to memory, dreams, to each other.” It also has a new dancer, Peter Sciscioli, who happens to play the violin, adding an authentic frisson of melody to Oberfelder’s interpretations of Chagall’s imagery. The choreographer can be found in her signature position: standing on her head.

“The things that come to the foreground in our memory are the things that are really important,” she muses after a rehearsal. “I wanted to mold the things we remember between people. It’s not surreal, but it’s subliminal—the dream you don’t want to end, which is life.”

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Black on White

On January 22, Hugo Fiorato led the New York City Ballet orchestra in “Happy Birthday” to George Balanchine, and as usual, the company (at the New York State Theater through February 24) gifted its late master with a new ballet. Hallelujah Junction, Peter Martins’s eighth work to John Adams’s music, strikingly matches the rhythmic variety and drive of the eponymous score for two pianos. The music pauses occasionally or waxes lyrical, but you sense it racing along in eighth notes; the choreography rides the propulsiveness with tautly frisky steps.

The two pianists, Cameron Grant and Richard Moredock, sit at the back on a high platform behind a scrim. Because Kirsten Lund Nielsen has dressed the ensemble men in white practice clothes, and the women in black, the first moment they all appear together it’s as if the pianos’ white and black keys are spilling down and marching toward the audience. At the ballet’s first two performances, Gitte Lindstrom and Andrew Bowman of the Royal Danish Ballet (for whom Martins made Hallelujah) danced principal roles, both in white—she charmingly perky with slightly loose feet, he appealingly soft in his strength. Benjamin Millepied bursts into their calmly tender duet, and throughout the ballet his black attire and wonderfully zesty dancing emphasize his role as a rogue element, maybe a matchmaker, maybe even a good-pal Benno to their swanny courtship. A high point is the two men’s canonic diagonal across the stage; legs beating the air in brisés, they’re like competing dragonflies.

Martins pulls out a changing display of clean-edged designs the way you’d unfold a cut square of paper into a design of lacy symmetry. Lindstrom is fenced by four women. Millepied vaults in a square formed by four men. Two linked trios and a couple skim through bright patterns. Martins has also made smart little duets for Abi Stafford and Craig Hall, Ashley Bouder and Antonio Carmena, Glenn Keenan and Amar Ramasar, Sarah Ricard and Jonathan Stafford. He shows off these up-and-coming dancers (Abi Stafford was just promoted to soloist) as if to say to Balanchine, “Happy Birthday. Look what we have for you!”



Kriota Willberg’s Dura Mater often performs in clubs; her clever, eccentric dances don’t drift around a lot. Her recent Ladykillers fits neatly into the small, elegantly appointed Axis Company theater on Sheridan Square. Pointe shoes take her dancers up, falls take them down, and curious gestures create a busy stir without occupying much space. In the lobby, we’re primed by a video of the Grand Pas of the Wilis from Giselle—a killing machine built of ghostly maidens. The topics of the evening are dangerous women and danger to women, viewed satirically. A Siren (Willberg), masked by fringe, lures with her bare, muscular back and sinuous hips. Pomo Wilis Stasia Blyskal, Kate Kennedy, and Tomiko Magario arch and stretch on the floor garbed in decaying wedding dresses and shrouded in net, their legs stained with mud. In an enjoyable if inscrutable film by Janis Astor Del Valle, the spy Mata Hari (entrancing Buffy Miller) seduces a count with her pseudo-Middle Eastern wiles. Closer to home, in the two-part Euthanasia, a pair of spiky nurses on pointe scrutinize a hapless patient, and three women in hospital gowns huddle on the floor, rocking tensely, at the mercy of a fiercely self-involved “caregiver” (Magario), who looks about six-foot-five on toe and scary as hell.

The disturbing little tableaux don’t press points home; we shiver or laugh uneasily. But the finale, Housewife, is suddenly political. Sixteen women (including recruits from a workshop) yell, recoil from a slap, and fall in a polyphonic vision of abuse by unseen hands. Here, the accompaniment (much of which has been abrasive and electronic until now) offers the ironic sweetness of Mozart and Schumann.

Five videotape variations called Kill Vicky separate the dances. In all of them, Willberg and Vicky Virgin attack each other like pit bulls, while various dance-world men ignore them as much as possible. Douglas Dunn keeps dancing when they invade his studio; Eliot Feld closes his office door when they get too rowdy. David White drinks his coffee. Neil Greenberg does look alarmed, but when Keith Sabado tries to break up the fight, he gets fatally stabbed in the gut with a pointe shoe.



The brothers Grimm might be taken aback by Jody Oberfelder, who approaches their fairy tales with gutsy wit and a vocabulary derived in part from acrobatics. Her charming The Story Thus Far fairly climbed the walls of little Dixon Place last month. So involved is Jessica Lööf in a book of Grimm stories that she jams its spine between her teeth and turns its splaying pages into a dragon’s mouth. A frog prince and his bemused lady (Brian Caggiano and Storme Sundberg) tangle their limbs intricately. Magic apples become props that Lööf, Sundberg, and Sara Joel nestle seductively in the crooks of their elbows, tuck behind their knees, and slyly clamp between their thighs during bourrées—all to loveliness by Schumann. (The well-chosen music ranges from lieder and German folk songs to wonderful lusty tunes by Frank London of the Klezmatics. Tine Kindermann sings some of them live, garbed by Miche Kimsa as a sort of benevolent sorceress.)

Oberfelder is not retelling familiar plots. Her 17 little dances extract an essential truth from each tale, with quotes in the program as guidelines. Acrobatics function as metaphor. Summoning up blindness in “Divine Betrothal,” she keeps Joel grafted to Caggiano much of the time; they cartwheel holding hands. “Sojourn” embodies the line “She had the gift of seeing far into the distance”; no matter what complicated, linked gymnastics Caggiano, Sundberg, and Matthew Thornton indulge in, the wide-eyed Sundberg always seems to end up aloft, scanning the horizon.

The six performers excel at far more than flipping through the air. They reveal awkwardness, uncertainty, and the trove of emotions behind the stories. Oberfelder conflates the fierce old tales with childhood innocence, without losing the dark undertones. The one about a mother stewing her little son and feeding him to his father is expressed by conflict on a very small table, uneasy play with potatoes, and a last-ditch round of musical chairs. The choreography reveals not the horrid act, but the apprehension that to lose the game can be a dreadful thing.


This fall, Nala Najan sent me a video. It was a goodbye gift. Watching him in his prime, performing Bharata Natyam, Kathak, and Chhau solos, reminded me all over again what an extraordinary dancer he was. His gestures and postures were so clean, so bold, so full of fire, his acting so expressive, his slender body a reed swaying with passion. When I thanked him, I asked what made a boy born Roberto Rivera leave America at 15 to study in India. He answered that that was another story. Maybe he’d find time to tell it. AIDS finally claimed him, at 69, on January 7. Too soon!

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Read the Paper

Three women in drab black dresses and utilitarian shoes stare at us from a bleak habitat. Two chairs. A window. A table. A radio. Half-packed suitcases. One woman scratches the back of her leg with a foot. Dancing—wild, yet precise—builds from fidgety gestures. Determinedly flinging their legs and arms about, the three look as if they’re executing a folk dance to keep from going mad.

Who are these people? Well, they’re actually Dayna Hanson, Gaelen Hanson, and Peggy Piacenza, whose Seattle-based 33 Fainting Spells opened the Altogether Different series. But in their meticulous, intense, small-scale Sorrow’s Sister, they’re women in war. The world outside their window is crumbling and exploding. Inside, there’s little to do and less to eat. They’d leave if they knew where to go.

A proscenium stage isn’t the best site for 33 Fainting Spells. I need to feel trapped in a room with these women, preferably without the distraction of an intermission. Nevertheless, their beautifully chosen and performed actions draw me in; I lean forward to catch the small pained gestures with which Gaelen Hanson removes her sparkling earrings and hands them to Dayna Hanson (to pawn, I realize, when Dayna returns with three potatoes).

Their terrible reality has the strangeness of a dream. Dayna wears a small, stale cake with lit candles as a party hat. Her birthday present is a single roller skate. The three dance with the precious potatoes; Gaelen falls in love with hers and has to be persuaded to surrender it to the pot. After Piacenza has returned, bloodied and staggering from a foray outside, the bed on which she writhes emits clouds of dust. Or is she turning to dust as we watch?

The triumph of Sorrow’s Sister is that the three collaborators reveal immense drama through small, numb moments. There is fitful music (Bartók, Weill, manic Paganini, et al.), Dylan Thomas’s magisterial voice reciting his “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” the noise of a train or a plane, and the women’s rhythmic footfalls. But the predominant sound is silence. That the women don’t talk only adds to the impression that they are barely surviving. They panic at moments, but haven’t the energy for self-pity. When there’s nothing you can do, you do what you can.

** I feared that Yoshiko Chuma’s revised Footprints of War, another view of women in peril, would also suffer from being transferred from an almost claustrophobic space (the Kitchen) to the Joyce’s stage. Instead, the performers (Rocky Bornstein, Sharon Hayes, Vicky Shick, Kasumi Takahashi, and Chuma) seem more exposed, more vulnerable as they wait uncomfortably in striped beach chairs or stare over a ship’s rail. However, the distancing effect of a conventional theater and Chuma’s revisions make us less aware of particularities in these intense, highly distilled and abstracted images related to the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath. Toppling and rearranging chairs becomes more of a movement motif than the expression of specific desires.

Dances with agendas are trouble. The choreographer has a message, but feels it necessary to create “dancing.” Chuma’s subject in her new Reverse Psychology: Agenda Number 1: Japan is complex. Articles in fabricated newspapers passed out to the audience during the piece crack jokes about the Japanese Pokémon becoming a capitalist enterprise in U.S. kindergartens, about cross-cultural misunderstandings, xenophobia, the erosion of Japan’s postwar pacifist position, and her increased military alliances.

But you can hardly peruse the newspaper during the performance. One article gets read on tape, and Treva Offutt imitates Diana Ross (but you have to read the paper to get the connection). Chuma’s choreography and Ralph Lee’s set design reconfigure the uncomfortable sharing of space, the peril of crossing boundaries, and the warring of cultures as turns-taking encounters within and around a large open cube. Although four little groups of lights on the floor suggest both compass points and home base, the performers often tilt and turn the cube, destabilizing geography. The female performers—Offutt, Takahashi, Jodi Melnick, and Ksenia Vidyaykina—wear vividly colored sports clothes and wigs of straight black hair (costumes by Gabriel Berry). They and Christopher Caines slam into the cube accompanied by the sound of breaking glass, or violent music played live by composer-guitarist Marc Ribot and a small ensemble. Occasionally specific emotions emerge, as when the women explode into dementedly rapid martial arts moves and high shrieks, or when Melnick and Offutt end a duet in the cube cheek to cheek. The blend of seriousness and humor, of the specific and the abstract, seems uneasy. The piece, for all its color and energy, remains opaque.

** Dixon Place’s tiny space at Vineyard 26 can barely contain Jody Oberfelder’s Social Dances. That’s part of the evening’s charm. Three performers crowd onto one of the couches that form the funky seating. I chat with another dancer who’s sitting beside me in the aisle. When they explode into tangos and waltzes, the walls become backboards for their more acrobatic antics, and their flashing legs create a wind in the front rows.

Oberfelder, small and sinewy, is an athlete, and she embeds her love of physical challenge in her choreography. Gliding over the floor in a partner’s arms and arching with romantic extravagance are de rigueur, but so are handstands, dives, and startling tangles. People use one another’s legs as turnstiles. Oberfelder and Joshua Bisset spin Melanie Fox on her head. When the “Blue Danube” plays, Bisset, Fox, Chris Hutchings, and Laura Quattrocchi sit on the floor and pull on imaginary oars.

In Oberfelder’s strenuous, witty, and warm-hearted social-dance lexicon, the concept of partnering is relaxed. Deliciously sensual Sara Joel cleaves spoon-fashion to Fox during “Moving Violation,” to music by the Tin Hat Trio; she also slinks with Hutchings to a hot Steve Elson tune. In “Pick-up,” the whole cast becomes Hutchings’s centipede of a partner. Tall, gray-haired Sally Hess, the most elegant dancer in the room, joins Oberfelder and her little daughter Yanna Oberfelder-Riehm in a sweet trio, and what might be seen as incongruity becomes camaraderie.

Not all Oberfelder’s dancers are technically expert, but they have endearing verve and daring. They hurl themselves into the steps as if the walls and floor were foam rubber and they couldn’t conceive that someone’s arms wouldn’t always be there to catch them.

** Hetty King is one of those special performers. No matter who the choreographer or how banal the activity, she dances as if every movement were a thought emanating from her and in turn feeding her. She first appears in her Waltz, eyes heavy-lidded, arms folded, torso rising from an iridescent foam of a gown by Naoka Nagata. When she lifts her skirt to examine a leg or licks one hand to a wash of sour-sweet music by Jon Gibson, she embodies her own artistic statement: “The body contains my hunting ground. . . . I excavate memories.” Whatever she shows us is interesting: the way she slaps herself or limps across the floor, the way she looks framed against a window of light (design by Jane Cox), the way her long black hair comes down when she spins.

King makes only a few links between what she describes in the program as “three dreams, three portraits.” Amy Baker performs the second section of Waltz on and around Larry Hahn’s wooden construction. It’s reminiscent in form and function of the structures Isamu Noguchi used to design for Martha Graham, except that real branches emerge from it. Although Baker enters pulling it, and it’s both portable and collapsible, it’s still more domain than set—a place to roll in, a place for holy experiences and exhibitions. Yet her movements (a few of them echoing King’s) seem desultory, as if she weren’t sure of her purpose.

David Figueroa’s presentation is the most blatant. He’s intermittently in our face, welcoming us effusively, checking our responses. But he’s also involved in a violent dream of a detective story. He starts when a dog barks, shadows his face with a fedora, tries to climb the wall. We assume a murder. He lies on the floor in a pose earlier taken by Baker and chalks his own outline as sirens howl. Seconds later, King lies down in the shape he’s drawn. The second episode still seems unmoored, but the intersections that accumulate toward the end are tantalizing, making me reevaluate what I’ve seen previously and wish for more links—not to clarify a mystery but to enrich it.