Chris Yon at DTW

Diagram by Jeff Larson

Chris Yon chooses black and white design elements for his new piece, HUGO. At the same time, his dance exists mysteriously and comfortably in a grey area.

A blank, TV-sized screen on the DTW stage flickers static onto the faces of a forward gazing audience. We watch nothing together. The static becomes a silent film beautifully made by David Bagnall and featuring performers Taryn Griggs and Jeff Larson. The two inhabit stark architectural landscapes within New York: an empty park fountain, an alleyway. The screen is split. Griggs is in on the left, Larson on the right. They move in the same straightforward ways in the same locations, yet in different frames. These feel like parallel universes.

The film continues past when I think it will and I am intrigued by this shift of expectation. Maybe I have entered a dance theater to watch a silent dance film. But then Yon comes onstage and turns off the screen. Stage curtains open to reveal Griggs and Larson. They are dressed in their film costumes, black and white striped tops, black bottoms. Stripes of white tape run horizontally across the black floor.

The two perform, often in separate worlds. They move clearly in space and in controlled, precise ways. They sometimes seem like animals, kung fu cartoons, aliens in a sci-fi movie. They also obsessively gesture in a way that is both remote and quite familiar. Who are they? Where are they? The music repeats as if stuck.

Out of the midst of this driven repetition, something starts to change. Larson moves slowly. His seemingly untrained, and therefore unhidden, movement breaks my heart a little bit. Unhindered by sleek and prescribed form, he is nakedly human. Some essence has been reached. He brushes Griggs’s hair away from her face, softly and curiously grooms her. The parallel universes hesitantly touch.

Yon and another man slowly wheel a grand piano onto the stage. Nicky Paraiso begins to play. Karinne Keithley sings in a light and otherworldly way. It is a moment of transcendence in the midst of a most gentle and sensitive mundanity. Keithley sings that nothing has attached itself. She says the word “untranslatable.”

I can’t quite make sense of HUGO. And that’s ok with me. It brings me to a place that is beyond words and beyond sense. This is the place of life’s greatest questions and the most interesting dance.

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