Heidi Latsky says her new work, a 50-minute piece called Bound, was inspired by Bernard Schlink’s novel The Reader. On the surface, the two couldn’t be more different: The dance is sprawling and wildly eventful, while the novel runs in a single tight streak of crystalline memory. Yet Latsky seems to have plunged her hand into the whirlpool of ideas at the heart of Schlink’s tale and flung them in droplets everywhere. Bound, which opened the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project festival at the Duke on 42nd Street earlier this month, starts with Latsky in a solo of slow torment and ends with her watching the tumult onstage from up in a balcony, one leg ready to carry her into flight. In some ways, that’s the book right there.
The central character in The Reader is a woman in postwar Germany who has emerged from the Nazi years with secrets that constrict and shame her. Only in jail does she liberate her spirit; freedom, by contrast, keeps her enveloped in her own mysteries. Latsky portrays the essence of this character while thirteen dancers are coursing around her as if they were emanating from her past, her heart, and her psyche. Three icy women haunt her early in the dance, laced in corsets like emblems of rigidity; other dancers create a childhood landscape where girls acquire marionette bodies that bespeak coyness and obedience. In a strange, lovely trio, a man and woman keep Latsky entwined between and around them; she hangs on desperately, then pulls herself free. The imagery of connectedness is always temporary here; when they do get together, couples hold each other upside down, or offer support to a partner who’s perilously askew. Most often, the dancers are hurtling about on their own, solitary no matter how crowded the stage. Sometimes they slither away across the floor like creatures nobody wants to acknowledge.
At its most reflective, when Latsky is alone or involved with just a few others, Bound is set to Vivaldi; more frenetic sections are backed by commissioned scores from Randall Woolf and Marty Beller. No, you don’t have to know the novel to become absorbed in this beautifully made work. But fans of the book get the extra pleasure of watching Latsky make a bold leap from page to stage and hit the ground dancing.