‘Do you want to participate a little bit?” asked a charming man with a French accent as each of us stepped cautiously into the performance area at Dance Theater Workshop. I didn’t at all, but I almost changed my mind when I saw that smile and heard that accent. I’ve always been devoted to the fourth wall—too bad it’s not portable—but Compagnie Felix Ruckert specializes in a version of audience interaction so resolutely nonthreatening that even the most erotic sequences have a gentle air of good manners about them. Ruckert, a former Pina Bausch dancer, is very smart about which conventions to jettison and which to keep.
The evening-length work he presented early this month, inscrutably titled Deluxe Joy Pilot, took place with dancers and audience alike gathered cozily onstage. Audience members who wanted to be part of the action perched on “beds,” or cushioned platforms; the rest of us tucked ourselves into huge, inflatable seats or sat on the floor. A couple of dancers started things off with a quiet, sculptured duet in the center of the small space. Sometimes they were an inch from our noses, but they managed not to trip over any feet or handbags as they calmly wrestled. Meanwhile, five audience members were lying flat on their beds with dancers standing about them, holding their hands or lightly massaging them. The music was plink-plink-bubble; we could have been in a spa. Pairs of dancers drew volunteers from the audience and became trios, lifting and manipulating the new partner with the tenderest care.
Then, gradually, the music became more aggressive and a dancer hurled himself into a cyclone of a solo; two more tore through an all-combat duet. On the beds, audience members were getting pummeled, tossed, and bounced on, though nobody seemed to be in any distress. The violence was dreamlike, and the air of tenderness held fast. At the end, the dancers simply melted into the crowd and disappeared as we all sat dazed and blinking. Not the ones who participated, though—they were grinning like newlyweds.