Ivy Baldwin Dance’s Quarry at Manitoga
Ivy Baldwin Dance: Quarry
September 21 – September 22, 2019
The wooded grounds of Manitoga, an arcadian mid-century estate, recently served as a stage for Ivy Baldwin Dance’s Quarry. Russell Wright, a 20th century industrial designer, reclaimed the Garrison, NY, property with his wife Mary, in an attempt to resuscitate it after destruction wrought by logging and mining.
Over time, Wright replanted, created a swimming pond in an abandoned quarry pit, and forged miles of trails. After his wife died, he built a home into the rock overlooking the quarry pond. The result is a magnificent piece of mid-century architecture that still appears visionary in its graceful relationship to the surrounding land. Baldwin leads her audience on a strange journey through that land, and Quarry feels deeply site-specific while remaining mysterious and a little unsettling.
After a short introductory speech, a facilitator invites the audience to walk from the parking lot up a short hill to a series of chairs overlooking the quarry. The dancers are already performing a few feet off the side of the path; costumed in shades of green that blend with the surrounding moss and trees, they hum, groan, and shudder. Hair obscures faces and the dancers turn away, staying close to the ground. They seem like disturbed forest spirits, creatures that wander, distraught, when their homes are destroyed.
Manitoga was certainly ravaged when Wright and his wife first began to restore it, and their attempt to live in harmony with the landscape is inspiring. But it’s likely that the site would have ecologically rebounded on its own, given enough time. And while Russell and Mary Wright eased the process along, they also barred the gates to their property, creating a private space governed by rules and regulations. Perhaps the land’s disturbed spirits still can’t quite find their way back.
The dancers ease themselves down a sloping side of the cliff and into the woods, while another facilitator guides the audience closer to the edge. Chairs and quilts make up the seating, but the real cushion is the springy moss covering the rock. It’s wonderful to have a tactile reminder that we’re not in a theater. The house is built down into the earth, jutting out from the bedrock across the quarry. It has two green roofs, covered in grasses and moss, and huge windows that reach out to form a multi-story corner of the dining room. The dancers, now costumed in bright blue, fuchsia, and yellow, reappear, flicking in and out of sight within the house and along different paths down to the quarry pond.
The movement is pedestrian and functional, allowing the performers to sail up and down steep paths between the house and the pond. Two women in blue stand on the roof, dancing in ritualistic unison, while others seem to be searching for each other within the house. At one point, the group joins together to make a chain of shapes along a path below the house, and later to wade into the pond. Even together, they seem ghostly and isolated. The electronic soundscore playing throughout this section mixes seamlessly with ambient noises and reverberates from hidden spots throughout the quarry. Sound for outdoor performance is rarely well conceived, but this amplified shushing and rumbling completes the sense of a distorted natural order.
The hallucinatory effect builds to crescendo as whooping voices and a saxophone echo across the quarry. The dancers call to one another in increasingly urgent tones, transforming sound into distinct voices. A group finally reunites in relief at the edge of the pond, hugging and stumbling. Eventually, all signs of the performance fade into the woods.
The audience’s gaze, from across the quarry pond, is a little bit voyeuristic—the way Baldwin plays with distance, depth, and edges of space conjures Hitchcock and his ability to place the viewer helplessly adjacent to something disconcerting. The dancers aren’t acting out domestic scenes, per se, but they’re moving through routes that Wright must have walked many times, possibly in loneliness and isolation—Mary Wright died before the monument of Manitoga was complete. Baldwin’s company traverses a bridge between built and “natural” spaces, the present moment and the past, to create a multi-dimensional map of an attempt to live a good a life, but also to leave behind something worth remembering.
After an intermission within the house, the audience is guided to sit in front of a small stage in a meadow near the quarry. This section of the dance uses strange movement and surprising props to create something curious and symbolically opaque. At one point, two performers play guitar and sing a song about living and dying, while another thrashes on the floor and then sticks her head into a hole in the stage. The hole, cut perfectly to accommodate the action, is then filled by a potted tree.
The shapes and vocalizing seem developed from some kind of dream logic that could be a highly stylized exploration of the relationships brought forth in the quarry. This section feels like a clean break with what came before, especially because of the intermission, but operates like the symbolic context is already understood. Have we jumped to a new point in the same journey, with its questions of intervention and care, or are we somewhere else entirely? It's not so bad to leave the audience guessing, or even make them actively confused. But it's a little bit of a bummer to exchange the quarry for the stage.