- Last Updated: 12:16 AM, May 9, 2012
- Posted: 11:23 PM, May 7, 2012
Synod Hall of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave., at 110th Street; 212-352-3101. Through Sunday.
Pavel Zustiak works like an expert baker kneads dough — by instinct and feel. There’s no formula, no apparent structure in his new “Strange Cargo.” Things just happen when the time is right.
The Slovak-born choreographer, with his group Palissimo, has presented three works inspired by Polish writer Jerzy Kosinski’s novel “The Painted Bird,” about a boy wandering through war-torn Eastern Europe.
The hourlong “Strange Cargo” is the close of the trilogy, and, like its predecessors, takes place under unusual circumstances. Last year’s “Amidst” removed the seats from the Baryshnikov Arts Center and had the audience wandering through fog, trying to catch the action. “Strange Cargo” unloads in a utility building on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, a kind of Gothic gymnasium with stained-glass windows.
The moody, atmospheric piece is as much theater as movement, but don’t try to figure out a plot from the shifting, enigmatic scenes. The connection is the sense of instability and uncertainty.
As the audience sits on the sides of the hall, the dance unfolds within a taped-off perimeter. Three women and two men enter, crawling like lost dogs, but then speed up joyously and careen into each other like bumper cars.
Later, in what seems like an interrogation, one man sits at a table while another paces around him. The scene almost erupts into violence as the men butt heads. Toward the end, all the cast members chase each other, screaming, and then spin wildly, pointing outwards — until they finally slow down. When they do, they’re pointing at the audience.
You don’t need to read Kosinski’s novel to appreciate “Strange Cargo,” but the text you see and hear near the piece’s end is from the writer’s suicide note: May 3 marked the 21st anniversary of his death.
“The Painted Bird” may have been about World War II, but you can also sense the 40-year-old Zustiak’s impressions of Czechoslovakia after, during the Prague Spring and Soviet repression.
Accompanying the dance is an emotional, atmospheric score, played live by composers Christian Frederickson and Ryan Rumery on guitar, violin and a host of other instruments. Asta Hostetter’s motley costumes — tracksuits and sweaters, bowling shoes and cowboy boots — adorn dancers dressed like refugees wearing whatever they could grab. And Joe Levasseur’s lighting of gold and darkness turn a utility hall into a Caravaggio painting.
It may have ended with “Strange Cargo,” but Zustiak’s trilogy has been worth the journey.