Mark Haim, Alia Swersky, Scott Davis, and Corrie Beffort in Salt Horse's "12 Hour Play", photo by Tim Summers.

Mark Haim, Alia Swersky, Scott Davis, and Corrie Beffort in Salt Horse's "12 Hour Play", photo by Tim Summers.

Through the On-Site Review program, 4Culture evaluates arts and heritage organizations who receive Sustained Support funding. On-Site Reviewers attend events produced or presented by recipients and write up short reviews, which give the adjudicating Sustained Support panelists a patron’s-eye-view of each organization.  Each month, the 4Culture blog presents excerpts from these reviews.  This month’s review is by Justin Mata.

12 Hour Play was an improvisational dance and theater piece by Salt Horse, performed in Washington Hall.  The musicians stood in four corners of the floor with various noise making devices including traditional instruments like drum sets and guitars, but also pots, pans and other utensils. The dancers moved on and off the performance area, spreading the piece into the hallways, stairwells and balcony. A few groups of chairs were positioned around the perimeter of the dance floor along with blankets and pillows so the audience could lie down.

The performance itself was completely improvised, though there was a strong chemistry in the group.  I watched it at two different times and saw strikingly different segments. I first arrived early when there was a lot of energy in the room and many reoccurring elements, such as animal-like movements and group actions.  One dancer would slowly start a kind of repetitive movement that would be echoed by other performers until the entire troupe would be in loose unison. It reminded me of schools of fish or flocks of birds. The musicians would similarly build off each other from ambient noises to dramatic crescendos.

When I returned at 2 in the morning it was a different performance. The musicians had stopped playing in unison and instead there was a constant hum of a single instrument. There were more structured narratives to the dances: a male pawed at the ground with his feet while eying a female across the floor, mimicking courtship.  A line of girls danced Motown two steps in the back snapping fingers like backup singers. When I left the performers still had three more hours to go and it had already gotten weird.

For one segment of the piece, a child of about 5 crawled his way onto the dance floor. At first I thought he would cause a disruption, but he was quickly scooped up by one of the performers and became part of the choreography. It was actually quite touching. Because of their chemistry, I guessed that it was the dancer’s son as the boy played along well. There were many points like this with a strong metaphorical weight, especially in the early morning. Some powerful symbolism developed as the dancers strained their bodies and their creative processes and audience members interpreted their actions through a lens of fatigue. Also, at certain times absolutely nothing was happening: no music, no dancing. I might have found this more compelling as symbolism if I wasn’t fighting off sleep. To be fair, this is the nature of a 12-hour performance focused on endurance—I was quite happy to have seen the show in the later hours. The endurance aspect was one of the most impressive elements of the show.

Salt Horse‘s previous works include Titan Arum and Man on the Beach.