Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times
by Jennifer Dunning
A small, worried-looking man walks back and forth through Hilary Easton's strong new piece, "The Short-Cut," performed on Thursday at the Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church. Dressed in a vest and business attire, he scribbles away at a clipboard and consults a stopwatch. Sometimes he calls out instructions or comments to one or another of five dancers.
The man is a stand-in for Frederick Winslow Taylor, a late-19th-century efficiency expert whose writings Helen Schulman draws on for the text of "The Short-Cut." She lets him off easy, though, quoting only such relative bromides as: "In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first."
But Ms. Easton is not interested in caricaturing Taylor. The hourlong piece begins with the dancers, dressed in workaday clothes, bobbing and bending in dull light and shadow, a little like machines. Strangely, they melt into humanity as the Taylor figure tries to manipulate them and measure their motion. And by the end, their lyrical and humane behavior undoes the man.
Ms. Easton's sly sense of humor, abiding warmth and choreographic gift for gutsy physicality make something quietly majestic out of what could have been trite. She draws the viewer into a magical world where life, like an errant, brilliantly colored butterfly, cannot be pinned onto scientific constructs. That unquenchable spirit pushes through in dance, once in a duet for endlessly looping, loving bodies.
"The Short-Cut" and its mysterious, textured score by Thomas Cabaniss build almost imperceptibly. So does the portrayal of Taylor by Steven Rattazzi, an actor of impressive subtlety, who echoes a choreographer at rehearsal. Ms. Easton's dancers - Blossom Leilani, Aaron Draper, Emily Stone, Brian Gerke and Leslie Cuyjet - manage to suggest drab young factory workers unlike the vividly human, gifted movers that they are.
But then Ms. Easton herself is a humanist. And "The Short-Cut" feels almost visionary in its simple affirmation of the magic of art and the human spirit.
"The Short-Cut" will continue through tomorrow at the Danspace Project, St. Mark's Church, 131 East 10th Street, East Village, (212) 674-8194.