Dance review: ‘Collision Course — a.k.a. Pillow Talk’

December 10, 2012

Choreographers have long been fascinated by the supposedly stationary act of sleep. There’s Romeo’s heartbreaking pas de deux with the limp, slumbering Juliet; George Balanchine’s tragedy “La Sonnambula” (“The Sleep Walker”); and from the more recent canon, Larry Keigwin’s endearing “Mattress Suite.” Saturday night at George Washington University, longtime local choreographer Maida Withers premiered her chaotic addition to the genre: “Collision Course — a.k.a. Pillow Talk,” a 60-minute work for eight dancers, 20-some pillows and a nightmarish PowerPoint presentation.

The piece opened beguilingly, with dancer Kelly Bond in a silky white negligee, lying alone with her pillow at the center of an all-white dance floor. As she lolled in the spotlight in those opening minutes, it seemed Bond could tell an entire bedtime story just by stroking that pillow with a hint of a smile. The scene could have gone on forever, but her reverie was interrupted by the multimedia mess that, like incessant car alarms, prevented audiences from appreciating the more intimate moments in “Pillow Talk.”

Dancer Anthony Gongora is credited with creating the distractingly silly projections, which resembled a high school PowerPoint presentation. “Roll over” and other phrases zoomed in and out and up and down, scrolling over a background of blue sky and puffy white clouds. Also onscreen was the 10-foot face of “poet and sonosphere” Alissandru Caldiero. During much of the show, his grating voice-overs chanted non sequiturs such as, “I wanna have an in-body experience, you know?” and “Silly rabbit, don’t you know that Trix are for kids?”

The movement sequences were most interesting when Withers explored what dancers could do with the pillows instead of abstract ideas. Could Nate Bond lift Giselle Ruzany while she was curled in a ball clutching three? (He could.) Could a trio of three guys waddle across the stage with pillows between their legs? (Yes; hysterically funny.) And an arabesque while clutching a pillow between two toes? (Awkward, but possible!)

But trying to watch the dancers was like counting sheep: an attempt to block out all the other distractions, which also included Steven C. Hilmy’s live, screechy and thumping score. When used well, multimedia allows choreographers to create a perfect dreamscape; this was a night of fitful, sensory overload.


Anthony Gongora in Maida Withers Dance Construction Company's "Collision Course- a.k.a. Pilliow Talk," which premiered at George Washington University. (Shaun Schroth)

Ritzel is a freelance writer.

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