Critic’s Notebook: East Side, West Side: Lighting the Way, Darkly

They might be trance-dancing, each locked into his or her own condition. But certain gestures, movements and positions loom out with exceptional force. I remember especially how Justin Hyacinth, while bending backward, circles his index finger near his head — as if turning a mime’s gesture for thought into one for a slow, numbed question. When one woman extends a leg into the air behind her — a ballet arabesque amid a work that otherwise includes no ballet — while stretching her two arms up into the air, the position has astonishing, heroic gestural force, like a culmination or a turning point.

Should we trouble ourselves about the title “Moon Fate Sin”? The lighting may be interpreted as moonlight (though not by me); the way each dancer stays locked into his or her own narrow zone of space may be an image of fate. But sin? Perhaps the slow-motion movement evokes a post-traumatic condition, but sin itself I did not observe.

And why is “Memoirs of a … Unicorn” so called? Ms. Forté-Saunders wears an elaborate outfit that includes a tall projection attached to her back. A unicorn image? Maybe. At one point, she cradles a long metal cone — another unicorn horn? — in her arms and exposes one breast as if feeding a baby. More generally, she seems in these “Memoirs” to be making herself a rare beast, a peculiar animal whose strangeness is the subject of the drama.

You could go on contrasting the two pieces at length. Ms. Forté-Saunders is in heeled shoes; Ms. Walsh and her four co-dancers are barefoot. “Memoirs” has a taped soundtrack, sharply changing among multiple items and styles; for “Moon Fate Sin,” the sound — by Wally Blanchard, Ms. Walsh and Neal Medlyn — is largely of a piece, never breaking the foggy atmosphere and never memorable in its own right.

But the main difference is that “Moon Fate Sin” is a real piece, whereas “Memoirs” is choppily incoherent. Watching “Moon Fate Sin,” though short, is fairly hard work — its striking moments strike too seldom — but it creates and sustains an image that never falters. (When it ends, suddenly, with the lights going off, it’s a shock.) “Memoirs” is not only fragmentary, but several of its fragments are too fleeting (and, in that acoustically awkward space, inaudible).

“Memoirs” is an intensely personal piece with which I could make few connections; “Moon Fate Sin” is a world that, whether or not we understand it, we cannot help believing.

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