Emily Hoffman reviews the latest installment of Sarah Michelson’s Devotion series.
Devotion Study #3 has the quality of a vision. It begins when Nicole Mannarino, braced on the arms of two security guards, runs through the air into the MoMA atrium, and it ends 30 minutes later when Sarah Michelson, all in white, jogs out after her dancer who’s disappeared just as swiftly as she entered, followed by her suited retinue.
What the two conjure in the interim is something very close to the soul of dance. In the first of her Devotion pieces, Michelson drew her movement vocabulary from Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp, titans of 20th century American dance and in Michelson’s own artistic formation. In Devotion Study #3, she employs a more plain-spoken register. The referent here is a social dance of the sort you might see in a 1970s dance hall: feet swivelling from side to side, hips popping. But it is a ghost of a reference, a trace of desire for a setting, a partner. The movement is made sharp and hard in Michelson’s choreography: Mannarino’s legs are locked and her arms are pulled behind her back as she swivels. She drops into the occasional deep lunge and sometimes kicks high and forceful. It is exacting work, fast and sequential, not at all fluid. It is a choreography about effort, and it is charged with all the desire of becoming. It is hard work, and it is also joy: the joy comes from the effort. It is in every way a virtuosic performance.