Recently at NYC's Joyce Theater Jacqulyn Buglisi expressed her fascination with Liminality, a threshold of ambiguous essence existing in both time and space. This obviously accounts for the many suspended movements threaded throughout her repertoire. May I be bold and ask if Buglisi's career itself lives in this liminal space?
According to my research, Liminility derives from the Latin word limen, "a threshold." Born from a need to define this concept dealing with rituals in small-scale societies, anthropologist Arnold van Gennep created the term in the early 1900's. His 1908 book, Rites de Passage, deals with just this, the existence and nature of rituals in small-scale societies. Van Gennep stated "such rituals marking, helping, or celebrating individual or collecive passages through the cycle of life or of nature exist in every culture.
"In its current state the term "Liminility" has joined the river of common terms and concepts, and in doing so has become a bit diluted, no longer referring just to rituals but to the individual, group, larger scale society and, dare I say, the whole world as well. Ranging from sudden events affecting the individual's life such as death, divorce etc. to events affecting entire societies such as prolonged wars, this beast of a term now even encompasses the idea of "modernity" as "permanent liminality," itself an oxymoronic term, ambiguous and disorderly. Now, with this evolution of a concept on the table, let's see how Jacqulyn Buglisi deals with it.
To me Liminility defines a middle stage, a place of transition, a phenomenon evoked due to a need for forward movement and change, a metamorphosis, disorientation, a boundary that is passed through between phases.
Let's look at Buglisi's history. She was affiliated with The Martha Graham Dance Company for 30 years, during which she became a principal dancer. Much of her choreography is directly related to this relationship. It's a highly dramatic vocabulary: dynamic arm gestures, splits and spiraling to the ground, long lines, quick shifts form high to low and vice versa, impressive and repetitive feats of technique, classic positions, steps and patterns mixed with a sense of extreme emoting suggesting struggle, lament as well as exuberance. This is especially evident in her older works, Suspended Women (2000), and Requiem (2001), both revisited in the current season.
Quintessential Buglisi pieces, they still evoke awe, especially Requiem, thanks to the performances of Terese Capucilli, Christine Dakin and Virginie Mecene. They seem to breath substance into the work, something much of the younger women (although beautiful and talented) still seem to be struggling with; most likely having to do with their amount of experience and the fact that these more experienced dancers lived through the part of dance history this work constantly refers to. I might also add that it is the theatrical elements in Requiem that add to its potency, the use of the box to elevate the stature of the women, the fog and its purpose as a light filter, adding depth and dimension to the space.
Rain (2004) as well as This is Forever (premiered the night I saw it) are beautiful, but just that. Since they are both concept driven pieces with the movement not necessarily matching the concept, they left me feeling unsatisfied and hungry for something honest. This is Forever Is supposed to be a reflection of Mildred Cram's 1934 novella about love at first site and its transcendence of life and death. That is a pretty tall order and Buglisi just scratched the surface. The dancers were dressed in all white (the color of love?), the music by Steve Margoshes was reminiscent of something that could be heard on low in a funeral home and the clouds on a blue sky backdrop just reinstated the fluff of the ballroom dance like movement. The dancers looked at each other once or twice over its course, but chemistry between them was absolutely null. Rain, supposedly about the animals of the rainforest, was a nice aim, but no hit. Jacobo Borges' film shield of natural landscapes with dripping water, making us gaze through the mist to find the dance, was a fun challenge. It's just that when my eyes spotted moving dancers they were performing the same type of beautiful movement Buglisi has been stuck on for a while. Then there is a matter of gender crossing: feminine movement for men, the glorified movement for women and the partnering between them a seemingly sexist relationship where the men, although incredible technicians and artists, are almost wasted as they are reduced to lifting machines and jungle gyms for ladies as they ascend toward heaven and descend gracefully to the earth plane where often the act of sex is depicted and ensues. Once again the same movement story, with a different concept pasted over it.