Behind-the-Scenes of the Buglisi Dance Theatre’s Latest

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If there’s one thing we nosy reporter types love, it’s the behind-the-scenes sneak peak. Happily, we had one such opportunity last week at Baryshnikov Arts Center, where Buglisi Dance Theatre was rehearsing for its fifteenth-anniversary season at The Joyce Theater.

Perched on folding chairs in the high-ceilinged studio, we watched the company run through three dances, including a work-in-progress version of Wild Mannequins & Wing Walkers, which had its world premiere last night. Though the petite and soft-spoken Jacqulyn Buglisi begged the small group of onlookers to forgive the kinks, what we saw hardly required an apology. The work, in which various historical women come to life amid a landscape of mannequins, felt both celebratory and cynical, as if acknowledging that, in spite of their grand accomplishments, women are still looked upon as decoration.

Of course, we could be way off base there, but even if we missed the point entirely, it was undoubtedly stunning to watch — even without the benefit of scenery, costumes and lighting. It drew gasps last night when the curtain went up to reveal the posed dancers dressed in white, with mannequins strung up overhead and flanking them on stage.

Former prima ballerina Martine van Hamel made a guest appearance in the piece; she and company member/co-founder Terese Capucilli skittered around the stage in hoop skirts and enormous hats made of branches and birds (we’re still trying to parse that one).

A couple of the other works joining Mannequins on the Joyce program illustrate Buglisi’s penchant for drawing on history, literature and art, among them her signature masterpiece, Suspended Women, based on the life and writing of the seventeenth-century nun/poet/feminist Sor Juana St. Ines de la Cruz. In it, an army of women, dressed in sweeping gowns from various eras, work out their frustrations, desires and disappointments in a sea of crinoline and satin.

Buglisi, who along with Capucilli is a former lead dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, has a knack for striking the perfect balance between strange and beautiful, an alchemy that delights the eye and provokes thought without making it feel like work. So it was a total joy to get to watch this company up close.

It’s an entirely different experience when you can literally reach out and touch the dancers (we refrained), hear their breathing and smell their sweat. Looking at all those lean, muscled bodies brought on a bout of gym guilt, to be sure — but it was worth it. If you’re in New York, we strongly recommend checking them out at The Joyce, where they’ll be performing through Sunday.

All photos by Kristin Lodoen Linder.