Noémie Lafrance is today's leading choreographer of daringly imaginative site-specific dance events. Her "Descent," set within the 12-story spiral staircase of an old clock tower, was perhaps the most visually enthralling dance work of 2001. Last year's "Noir," which Lafrance staged in a Lower East Side parking garage, offered an absolutely stunning journey into film noir-style intrigue.
Lafrance's latest venture, however, performed in Brooklyn's historic McCarren Park Pool, is a disappointment. Titled "Agora," the overly ambitious large-ensemble work attempts to revitalize the cavernous concrete ruins -- built by the WPA in 1936 and closed to the public in 1983 -- by filling the site with lots of independent activities happening simultaneously all over the place. There's too much to see at any given moment, and most of what's going on is too far away from most of the audience most of the time. (Viewers are permitted, however, to get up and walk around in order to observe the show from different vantage points.) Our eyes, straining to focus on individuals dancing in the distance, were severely handicapped by the production's disastrously dim lighting. We came away feeling as though we missed much more than we saw.
"Agora" 's content derives from the title's Greek roots. The word refers to a public gathering place and apparently inspired Lafrance to re-envision the old pool as an urban center of youthful recreation. The goings-on included impressive tricks by an expert hula-hooper, women lying on skateboards getting slid around Apache-dance style, a duo delighting in belly flopping into a plastic baby pool filled with water, and a woman who emerged from a drain "center-pool" dancing a funky solo that evolved into an electrifying ensemble dance sequence -- the kinesthetic highlight of the evening -- plus much, much more that, sadly, we just didn't see.