Dance Review: Baroque at the Seaport in Wally Cardona’s ‘Set Up’

July 11th, 2013

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The Set Up Jason Collins and Ingrid Kapteyn near South Street Seaport, in a piece choreographed by Wally Cardona and Jennifer Lacey and inspired by French Baroque dance.

The setup of “The Set Up,” an eight-part project by the choreographers Wally Cardona and Jennifer Lacey, involves their consulting with dance artists considered to be masters of a particular form. Much as these exchanges pull the choreographers into foreign territory — Okinawan folk dance, Cambodian classical dance — the works that result pull the forms out of their cultural context.

The physical context for the third installment of “The Set Up,” the fruit of an encounter in Paris with the French Baroque dancer Jean-Christophe Paré, was Pier 15, near the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan.

For this River to River Festival performance on Tuesday, audience members, facing the city, gazed upon a grassy knoll perched atop the pier’s wooden upper deck. Behind it were tall buildings and traffic on Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. To the right, the tall masts of sailing ships bobbed gently.

Into this setting — both old and new, pastoral and urban — came the dancer Rennie McDougall, with his thumbs hooked in the pockets of his cutoff jeans, doing a cross between Baroque floor patterns and a country-western line dance or the Electric Slide. Soon he was joined by Jason Collins and Ingrid Kapteyn, who kept close as a sometimes mirroring pair, posing in Baroque-seeming attitudes.

The dance began in silence, but after a while four trombonists, known as the Guidonian Hand, processed toward the spectators and eventually past them, toward the water. The music they played, created in collaboration with the composer Jonathan Bepler, was at first fragmented, wispy and hard to follow. So was the dance.

There was a suggestion of satire when dry-ice fog seeped from the bushes behind the grass and Mr. McDougall, having disappeared, re-emerged, rotating in a stupor. But the overall tone was fuzzy, and the hints of languor and decadence in the manners of Mr. Collins and Ms. Kapteyn were too vague, too tentative.

The dance gained coherence as the music did, the fragments of sound expanding into melody as Mr. McDougall’s skittish motions smoothed out into mime, his story framed by Mr. Collins and Ms. Kapteyn. Making a circle with his thumb and forefinger as one might to signal “O.K.,” Mr. McDougall gave a strange charge to a gesture that, in Baroque dance, probably has a simple denotation.

And then, as Mr. McDougall swooned to the ground, Mr. Cardona appeared. Barefoot in a T-shirt and shorts, he had such presence, such control, such virile grace, that he seemed a god among the other dancers. Though the trombonists’ volume had decreased with their distance, they now played their richest chords, and Mr. Cardona’s solo, coursing through the soft arms, low jumps and slow turns of early ballet, was gorgeous. Such a divine visitation seemed worth the setup.

“The Set Up” concludes the run of this segment on Thursday at Pier 15, South Street at Fletcher Street, Lower Manhattan; (212) 219-9401,

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