Shore Leave

Shore Leave

Seaport culture awash in “Hope & Anchor”

“Do you think a few sailors will join in?” one woman asked the guy handing her a program. It was Fleet Week, after all, and we were waiting at South Street Seaport to watch the conjoined troupes of Keely Garfield and Zach Morris present “Hope & Anchor,” part of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Sitelines site-specific dance/installation series. But while no sailors showed up and most people went about their business—shopping, eating, drinking—a small crowd of stalwarts dashed after the performers from lighthouse and cobblestone plaza to office building lobby and back again. To see this work, one had to surrender, commit, and be in it, to make quick decisions about where to go, what part of the overall spectacle to watch, where to stand and for how long, and whether to get out of the way of one dancer or another.

According to Sitelines’ program, “Hope & Anchor” was made “in collaboration with performers” and, I’d argue, with its audience as well.

Inspired by the area’s colorful nautical—and naughty—history and its considerably less interesting present, Garfield and Morris reach for and sometimes achieve an evocative, poetic feel. The unpredictable, serpentine path of the work suggests water massing outside a structure, surging inside it, then pouring forth again. Couples or small groups often split off and create little enigmatic dramas in different areas of the space. For example, one dancer suddenly flogs another with a rubber fish for no apparent reason—homage to the Fulton Fish Market? They fit the movement to its environment as water takes the shape of its container.

The dancers, dressed in worn, raggedy costumes and looking a bit sun-beaten and stunned, sometimes stumble around as if tossed on a swelling sea or from the nearest tavern. Forming an undulant chain of bodies on the cobblestones, they resemble mounds of seaweed or sailors marooned on a rocky shore. A mermaid (Marissa Neilson-Pincus) whips her tail around as she crawls over the grimy ground, a maiden (Donna Ahmadi) twirls and faints, and a scrappy woman (Garfield) seems to take “Blow The Man Down” a tad too literally.

It’s as if very fleshy ghosts have materialized amid today’s commercial bustle where the dance’s sea shanty singer (Keith Borden) and gentle guitarist (Kris Bauman) must compete with the blast of recorded music from RED’s overflowing restaurant.

For those of us who chose to pay attention and play along, “Hope & Anchor” offered a measure of beauty, a little fun, and a few thoughts to mull over at Manhattan’s edge where the invisible past floats below the present.