Review: In ‘Principles of Uncertainty,’ Talking and Dancing About the Weather

John Cage liked to say “I have nothing to say – and I’m saying it.” In that positive sense, “The Principles of Uncertainty” feels nothingy. A dance-theater collaboration between the choreographer John Heginbotham and the writer-designer Maira Kalman, this is an inconsequential collage of history, travel, memory, objects. It passes the time, which, as Vladimir and Estragon observe in “Waiting for Godot,” would have passed anyway. But to what end?

And if there is no point, does that matter? “The Principles of Uncertainty” is also the name of a 2007 book by Ms. Kalman that is, as she has described it, “profusely illustrated.” Both the book and stage production suggest days in our lives, in other people’s lives; this part-dance staging, as if flicking from channel to channel, is an anthology of fragments or quotations or replicas, most unfamiliar but not all. Everything is agreeable; too little seems importantly memorable.


Ms. Kalman (seated), and members of Dance Heginbotham.

Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times

One of the running themes here is the nothingy way that most of us discuss the weather every day. As the audience enters the BAM Fisher auditorium, the dresser-like cupboard on one side of the stage contains a screen showing a volcano’s rim glowing red. And the performance begins with talk of the weather in Pompeii just before the famous eruption of Vesuvius.

No explosion follows, however, and the first dance is a neat little affair to a song in Neapolitan dialect. There are 12 people onstage: the six performers of Dance Heginbotham (four women, two men); the four musicians of the Knights; and Ms. Kalman and Daniel Pettrow, who both speak (entertainingly, touchingly, melodiously) and occasionally dance (rather well).

There seems no…

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