Review: Where a Boxer’s Clinch Is a Slow-Dance Embrace
What we call a ring in boxing is actually a square, a shape with corners. Choreographer Shammel Pitts’ “Touch of Red” is performed in unison, surrounded by an audience seated on all four sides. Mimi Lien’s set establishes the boundaries of the ring with a low boundary wall, but adds drama by hanging above it a huge open her shape of the same outline. It looks like an upside-down gift box floating on top of an upside-down lid made of low walls and floors.
Pitts begins dancing with Tushrik Fredericks in this structure.And through an hour duet that had that New York Premiered at New York Live Arts Thursday, the two men never leave. The stools in the two corners are reminiscent of boxing, and the man is dressed in form-fitting gym clothes (by Dion Lee). But at first, gently bouncing or grooving up close makes it look like you’re in the club.
That’s the idea. This is a non-violent encounter, although the men periodically retreat into a corner, like between rounds. A man can be a lover, a friend, or a brother. Before the round, someone agrees by saying “OK”. This is not a competition; it’s a relationship.
In some places, the form of quarrels remains. The men swipe each other with strokes from freestyle swimming and dodge with quick hinge movements. They clung to the ground like wrestling, everything turned into a pretzel, one man’s leg caught on the other’s shoulder.
They also borrow moves from Lindy Hop. A paired spin or crossover step, a lift that puts Fredericks’ feet in the air and rests his back on Pitts’ back. However, these moves lack grounding and swing. The same goes for borrowing from boxing. By treating them as dances, Pitts reveals and revels in his masculine softness, but in unleashing his aggression he also unleashes much of his tension and intensity.
Like other works by Pitts art collective Tribe, “Touch of Red” is complemented by a sophisticated design. Sivan Jacobovitz’s electronic score borrows his ambient mood from Ben Frost and Burial, offering rumble, buzz and synth crowds. Lucca del Carlo’s video projections immerse dancers in Keith’s herring-like patterns and paisley-shaped swirls. Rus Snelling’s clever lighting can grab the attention of the audience and our audience. Lien’s gorgeous set is packed with surprises.
But the show takes a long time to warm up and drifts. Near the end, two explosive solos raise the temperature, with each man trying to come out with something in his own way, with Pitts doing a headstand and Fredericks bending backwards, arms outstretched to circle the space. And when they reunite and spin in a slow-dance embrace with Fredericks’ feet on top of Pitts’ feet, it feels like a conclusion.
Instead, the men step away, dance alone, stretch together, and crawl around each other in circles like dogs. . Say thank you, share stories of feelings and experiences that inspired ‘Touch of Red’, and speak very quietly. Only one segment of her in the audience can be heard at a time. This is a gesture that draws in some viewers and excludes others. The rest of the work is similar.
Shamel Pitts | Tribes
through Saturday at the New York Live Arts. newyorklivearts.org.