A well-crafted but puzzling exploration of family conflict

Susan Marshall says that ``Interior With Seven Figures'' is a narrative dance about happenings in the life of one man. This is interesting because, if you didn't know it, and if the seven dancers weren't listed in the program as Brothers, Mother, Father, Women and Man, you'd think the duets, trios, and ensembles were just another formalist essay. Implanting a story deep in what is essentially a dance preoccupied with variations on a movement vocabulary adds texture to what, in Marshall's case, can be a pretty bleak view of the way people treat one another. Friendly grip becomes hammerlock

Premi`ered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, ``Interior'' had a commissioned score for percussion and synthesizer by Luis Resto and was framed by Tom Kamm's three large squares - one patch laid out on the floor, one pipelike shape overhanging the space, and a scrim upstage. Under Mitchell Bogard's lighting, the dance looked like some intimate arena for small-scale conflict.

The ``family'' we see in the first section resembles a unisex track team. Clad in black sleeveless tops and cutoff tights, three husky men and one tall, thin woman walk around waving one arm in the air, and then pair up for intense sequences of love-hate moves. Arms around the shoulders, they take a couple of steps together; then suddenly the friendly grip becomes a hammerlock, and one hurls the other to the ground. The woman bends over a fallen man, pulling him up by the chest, then pushing him down again - and again, and again.

Within the first five minutes I feel the movement material has reached overload levels, and the music - driving, loud, sibilant rhythms - seems to be egging on the action like the clock on a scoreboard. Not only is there a lot going on, but every interaction provokes an immediate counteraction; every image bears at least two implications:

Teamwork is next to competitiveness. Tenderness and roughness, embrace and collision, pressing on and yanking back - in this choreography these antagonistic actions emerge from the same movement roots.

Exploring an explosive vocabulary

Then, instead of proliferating more movement, Marshall settles down to explore the explosive vocabulary she introduced in the opening. Several other sections of the dance continue the narrative. The Mother (Eileen Thomas) grapples with one of the Brothers (Andrew Boynton) and, at the same time, tries to stave off the aggressive interference of the Father (David Dorfman). This brother then plays up to another man (Jeff Lepore) in a long, ambiguous tangle of support and repulsion. Boynton later does an almost identical duet with one of the women (Kathy Casey), only this time he plays the indifferent one and she the supplicant.

The other brother (Arthur Armijo) emerges at the end of the first half as a solitary searcher or saint, coming forward over and over, flanked by his parents, with the irresolute waving gesture and a look back over his shoulder. He slices his hands across his abdomen in a gesture implying seppuku, but at the end of the dance the parents make him stop this suicidal fantasy. Armijo, still searching, is carried forward by the others in a transfiguring fade-out.

In and around the personal encounters, the rest of the dancers move in patterned, ``pure'' phrases built on the same movement vocabulary.

Though I still don't know the story, I have lots of respect for Marshall's craft and invention, for her skillful laminating together of pure movement ideas and evocative gesture.

But by the time the dance is over, I also feel battered and joyless, as if I've been making my way through the crowded Christmastime subways.

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