"You know, I kept thinking about Magritte, too," one audience member said to another as they walked out of the theater after Man on the Beach. "It was all so dreamy."
Dreamy, yes, but also a little nightmarish. Like Magritte, new dance company Salt Horse begins with quiet, dignified banality (a man on a beach) and layers on otherworldly, almost monstrous images: an enormous sandpiper with human legs, a creature wrapped in black plastic tubes worming its way across the floor, a corpse washed up on the sand whacked by cruel birds wielding silvery baseball bats.
But Man on the Beach (excerpted last summer at the Northwest New Works Festival at On the Boards) starts slowly and moodily, tenderizing its audience for the weird shocks to come. The first image: a metal teakettle on a wooden stool, lit from the side by lights offstage. The kettle sits, building to a whistling boil, which is sampled and looped to noisy static by composer Angelina Baldoz. The whistle is live in front of us and stuttering digitally on speakers, suspended in what sounds like the crackle of an old phonograph—a pensive marriage of vintage aesthetics and new technology.
Choreographers Corrie Befort and Beth Graczyk seem to be telling the story of a suicide. A tall man with a curved spine (Jens Wazel) stands upstage, silent and distraught-looking, holding a painting of a woman with his long, outstretched arms. Creatures and images visit the stage like shards of memory and fantasy: the sandpiper-creature; the man in black tubing; a small silhouette in a black suit jacket, flapping wildly like a wounded bird then standing still, using the jacket as a screen for the projected image of a bald man gesturing slowly with his arms.
As choreographers, Befort and Graczyk are the enemies of cliché and mostly avoid tired, familiar modern-dance gestures: one dancer using her hands to turn another's head, pseudosexual grappling-on-the-floor, etc. They have a clear, singular vision, favoring deft and mostly subtle moves (a man kneeling, forehead to the floor, sweeping his arm from behind his back to the ground and back again) until a mesmerizing, hallucinogenic freak-out at the end, when a bearded man (Michael Rioux) is replicated by all eight dancers, their hair tied in a knot like his, their faces covered with painted-on whiskers, flinging themselves around the stage.
Befort and Graczyk are also strong, capable dancers, drifting on and off the stage with graceful, tiny steps, like weeds caught in the waves. In one sequence, Befort dances around the tall man while wearing a sea-green dress, her hair over her face like seaweed, one small woman evoking the vastness of the ocean as the man steps slowly across the stage—and, presumably, to his death.
Man on the Beach, Erickson Theater Off Broadway, Fri–Sat March 5–6, 8 pm, $15.