Performing Arts: Dance
December 7, 2015
In Custodians of Beauty, an hour-and-a half-long work presented without intermission at New York Live Arts, Pavel Zuštiak seamlessly blended movement, music, projection, movable scenery, costumes, sound, and text, in a sequence that ran the gamut from the highly theatrical to the casually pedestrian. Building on a traditional philosophical view that sees beauty and art as constructed by both artist and audience, Zuštiak continually challenges his viewers to find meaning beyond their initial perceptions – in his words, “beauty that is all around us, that we many not notice.”

After walking to our seats through a darkened backstage corridor, a sudden black and white projection of electromagnetic waves and Christian Frederickson’s harsh electronic score jolt us to attention. Atmospheric lighting by Joe Lavasseaur reveals several black bundles behind a scrim, huddled close to the ground: the performers (Nicholas Bruder, Emma Judkins, and Justin Morrison) all dressed in black, crouching along, and moving almost imperceptibly, eventually unfold into standing positions that uncannily straddle a world between human and object.

Up against a velvet wall, they continue their slow-moving imagery, bending legs, standing on their heads, reaching a hand or a foot, and always keeping contact with each other, creating shapes that play on the edge of discernible. We see a bare knee here, a hand there; a mere glimpse of their humanity before they disappear into the movement again.

At their most poetically evocative, we see their nearly naked bodies, lying on the ground, curled up in a fetal position, backs to us, continually morphing into different configurations as they travel across the stage in infinitesimal increments, in an epic journey reminiscent of Eiko and Koma’s Naked.

The evening abruptly changes gears when one of the performers addresses the audience directly, asking someone to stand onstage as “a placeholder” while they change costumes. The text of a mundane conversation about the show is projected onto the back wall – clichéd phrases attributable to a seemingly undiscerning audience – from “I need a cigarette” to “I think they were stunned” to “we should be rioting.”

Rather suddenly, viewers shift from being imaginatively engaged to being rendered passively bored or ineffectual. The performers are now unmistakably people – shaking their limbs and heads at us as they walk around, or literally jogging around the brightly lit stage, all the while locking their gaze on us. We’ve gone on their journey, and now the ball is in our court.

As the rather lengthy program note claims, “we are all players on the Palissimo stage,” but where beauty lies here is squarely in the eyes of the beholder.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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