Last Friday, I had the pleasure to witness a triptych of works by the emerging choreographer John J Zullo in St Marks’ Church. The space was draped with long white horizontal sheets for the first piece of the evening, ALL what THIS do HAS you HAPPENED see? BEFORE, blocking about a quarter of our view of each side.
As the dancers entered from the audience, a young female performer looked at my neighbor and whispered “I want you to see”.
In unison, the performers initiated a phrase full of abrupt movements and fast changes that required them to trip over themselves, landing heavily and loudly on the ground. We could only catch glimpses of what was going on behind the white sheets. Crossing paths, changing partners over and over, it seemed as though the movement was braided into the fabric the dancers were moving behind. The dancers then brought the audience members to whom they had whispered to onto the stage and had them stand directly in front of the white curtains and watch them dance. It was interesting to see the choices audience members made, while some remained fixed in the positions they were placed in, others peeked to see what was happening on the other side.
The dancing progressed into trance-like movements, reminding me of some sequences from Political Mother by Hofesh Schechter . As the performers came closer together, they joined their hands up to the sky, and slapped their hands in prayer form on the right and left shoulder over and over, faster and faster as though they were gradually forming a cult. The movement took over their minds. Gradually, exhaustion set in and even I, as an audience member, felt like I could repeat the movements with my eyes closed. The audience members were brought back on stage and left there, alone to close the work. From the title to the multiple layerings of engaging the audience members into the work to the choice of movement repetition, John J Zullo had seamlessly managed to play with our perspective and memory. The raw and violent movement vocabulary used in partnering work also suggested that he was interested in focusing on human struggles.
The second work this Exquisite diversion/mysterious Skin, was inspired by Scott Heim’s novel Mysterious Skin which tells the story of two pre-adolescent boys who are sexually abused by their baseball coach. The dance opened in the dark with four long and illuminated standing pieces of Plexiglass. Vignettes of dance and passages of the book, read aloud, developed one after another. In the first vignette, a male dancer was lying and fidgeting on the ground. In the second, he was joined by another male dancer on the ground, while a female dancer was looking at herself through Plexiglass in self-analysis. The trio then broke down into two heterosexual duets, while the initial soloist performed in a central panel of light behind the Plexiglass.
Movement then became heightened with the introduction of violence. The dancers started checking their pulse after which the two female performers were tossed around in two trios, each framed by a man. The trios became sensual duets; one dancer undressed another and this seduction prompted an unexpected response of throwing that partner to the ground. These separate violent duets became a collective break out of abrupt pauses, which graciously lead to the parting of the two younger men from the beginning in a beam of light. From the introduction of abrupt violent movement during spoken passages about childhood, this work seems to convey the idea that past struggles follow us everywhere and that we are not alone facing our challenges.
Finally, Zullo presented us with a more lighthearted piece, Project Xiii, which utilized twelve solo performers. An alarm clock stuck on 1300 was at the center of the collective and generated the music at the origin of every solo. Every performer had a distinct personality defined by individual movement and music phrases. The work ended with a group phrase, in unison, where constant emotional shifts held the audience on the edge of their seats. The work was fun, catchy, and gave a glimpse into the originality of each dancer. It provided a space for all the dancers’ to showcase their individual style in a show of larger group pieces.
This collection of dances provided a glimpse into Zullo’s unique choreographic style and passion for dark psychological art, but also showed off his rich and diverse cast of performers.