Agora II at the McCarren Pool
Credit Noémie Lafrance for giving us back Williamsburg's McCarren Pool. This glorious old W.P.A.-era facility had been left to crumble by the Parks Department since it was closed in 1986, its four-story brick facade looming like some sort of ancient temple over a vast basin of peeling turquoise paint and local graffiti. (Here's some great old pics.) But where the city saw a fiscal headache, Lafrance saw the perfect spot for her next site-specific dance piece and, through her non-profit company Sens Productions, came up with the money to bring the pool up to code for public shows. The result was last fall's Agora, and its "continuation", going on now, Agora II.
This is a HUGE space to stage a dance, which works both for and against Lafrance. When Agora II succeeds it's because she's packed her 5,000 square-foot stage with a city's (or, at least, an agora's) worth of emotion and energy: angry, loving, silly, fierce, anxious, naive, peaceful, loud, frightened, powerful, cacophonous, mean-spirited, joyful. There's always lots going on, and the dozens and dozens of dancers move freely in and out of the pool, often sitting next to you as they change costume or await their next scene. At one point a dancer grabbed my hand (I was sitting on the side, she was down in the pool) and begged me, no matter what she said, not to let her go. She immediately began to writhe and jerk and scream "let me go let me GO!" but I held tight and then she stopped and gently told me it was OK, I could let her go now, and she looked me in the eyes and said: "I love you..." Honestly, it was pretty moving.
Also fun is the audience participation this year. If you buy a "player" ticket (and you definitely should, because it's ten dollars cheaper than a regular ticket, and you don't have to "play" if you don't want to), you're assigned a team, with a specific assignment at a specific time. I was on the "X" team, which required that, when the "Twilight Zone" theme came on, I jumped into the pool, formed a massive X with my teammates, and opened an umbrella (provided). The "Wave" team was not so lucky: their dance was basically to run laps.
It can be difficult, however, for Lafrance's choreography to remain visually compelling in such a large arena: frankly, my eyes aren't good enough to even really see what was going on on the other side of the "stage". But this where the magnificent, almost magical site really comes into play, because even when my attention wandered, the whole atmosphere of the setting—amplified by the deftly compiled and edited sound effects, spoken word, rhythm cuts and melodic songs of the piece's soundtrack—couldn't help but make me feel good. And the ending is genuinely beautiful, filled with hope and willingness... and then everyone jumps in and dances to Stevie Wonder.
Agora II will be performed tomorrow through Saturday, September 23, at 8:00, and then again next Wednesday through Saturday, September 30, also at 8:00. I went alone, but I know Bo and Co would have definitely enjoyed it. You can get tickets online here, with no extra processing fees.