METATRANSIT was a joint production by the musical duo Conquer Monster and Municipal Ballet Co. Being a sci-fi buff myself, I was excited to learn that the premise of the show was an abstract dance narrative inspired by the comic series, “Purge Worlds” written by Joshua Oman and illustrated by Chris Black. Conquer Monster originally crafted a custom soundtrack, METATRANSIT, which was designed to be played while reading the comic series. To my delight, the soundtrack was played live for the show. Video-glitch artist Tanner Hawkins was also involved in the mix by providing video content.
The event was held at Urban Lounge. To be honest, this worried me. I had only ever seen music concerts there complete with beer sticky on the floor, and sweaty millennials bouncing only slightly to the music. My worry proved unwarranted as the space was transformed for the show. Company director Sarah Longoria took to the stage and introduced the evening. She mentioned that her company does “experimental ballet” and that this show was a little more than that, being their first time performing to electronic dance music. I settled into my seat as the fog machines hissed, spurting out smoke that set the atmosphere.
DYSTOPIAN UNDERWORLD by Sarah Longoria was the first piece in the show. It opened with dancer Hannah Bowcutt seated mid-stage with her back to the audience. The movement for this work contained the most classically recognizable ballet moves. There were long and beautiful lines in the choreography which fit Hannah perfectly. My favorite moment was when she took her socks off and tossed them to the side. This action somehow signaled to me that Hannah was preparing to dive in a little deeper for when she returned to dancing she had a new and visible determination with each movement. Extensions appeared as a motif throughout the work. While Hannah was captivating to watch as she held her legs impossibly high, I couldn’t help but notice that the graceful movements did not match the title of the piece.
Hannah was joined by Amy Falls and Nora Price for the second work, FLUX PERIPHERAL by Erica Womack. The ladies were wearing white and gray and each had a different Ziggy Stardust-esque facepaint. This trio had moments of scrambled video bits projected on their bodies as well as onto the backdrop. The ladies moved with a lovely sense of timing during all of the unison phrases. The choreography highlighted the music with dynamic accents. The motif for this piece seemed to be a deep second position plié while in unison, and it was very satisfying to watch. The dancers all had stoic facial expressions and seemed to represent some disciplined yet graceful ideology through their movements.
GALAXY SURFER was the first video work by Tanner. My favorite images were of the the killer scorpion robot. I didn’t recognize any other images used from different sci-fi movies or shows, but the futuristic theme was apparent in showing images of explosions, robots, fancy switchboards and distorted bodies.
WAVEFORM DISTORTION by Kaya Wolsey was the next work presented. The music definitely added a new tone for the show. It was driving and lightning fast. I noticed myself and others tapping along in time with the beat, caught in the energy that Conquer Monster was creating. The choreography mirrored the pace of the song with moves executed on every count. Cynthia Phillips was so precise yet fierce with every phrase. She was vibrant and moved with a determined force. The lights were dramatic, dark and colorful, making this setting very different from the light, ethereal moods of earlier on. Cynthia wore all black and was smirking a little wickedly throughout her solo. While I was very impressed with the athleticism of the piece, I also found myself wishing there had been more moments of dynamic time changes like the one repeated variation Cynthia did in the middle of the dance.
The energy from the previous piece carried us into a duet with Cynthia and Kaya Wolsey. TRANSMITTING DNA AT 299 MM/S was a fitting name as the movements continued to a crescendo. Choreographer Jessica Liu used partnerwork and lifting with the duo to create moments of suspension. Cynthia and Kaya locked eyes with each-other, becoming the first dancers to visibly see and acknowledge their shared presence. The lighting continued with dark washes of solid color changing with the pulsing beats. Both dancers were emotionally invested, and proud. Both clad in black, I immediately concluded that this group of dancers was meant to be in opposition to the white/gray group. This second group had smaller numbers, but seemed very powerful in their movements which set them apart from the aloof aesthetic of the other dances.
The second video, POSTHUMAN, showed much if not all of the same images from GALAXY SURFER but in different sequencing. This time around I noticed smaller details such as the repeating sign “Oasis” despite other images of war, high tech robots, explosions and distorted people. I found myself having little moments of nostalgia whenever I could see “Play” flashing on the top of the screen like an old VHS player.
In SELF-SIMILAR FREQUENCY DOMAIN by Chase Wise we saw the two groups join forces and share the stage. While the girls danced in unison during the work, I could still see the emphasis on the differing styles of movement. The two dancers in black had a little more attack and sharpness to their movements while the gray/white group ebbed and flowed. Chase used lots of directional changes which were extremely refreshing on the intimate stage. Detailed gestures were woven into the work and punctuated by the dancers framing their heads with their hands. This move seemed to demonstrate some sort of personal obstacles or a mental block. I couldn't help but to try and find a narrative that I could follow within the movement. I caught my breath when for a moment all of the dancers were on the floor with their feet up and hands in a “stop” position. Fast floorwork made the piece exciting and lent a contemporary edge to the show. While this piece was strong choreographically, I felt that the unison sections seemed a little under-rehearsed and the girls weren’t completely in sync.
During ANAGLYPHIC VISION(S) by Trevor Naumann, the white/gray group returned with more dancers. I could see the group making amorphous shapes in positive and negative space. There was minimal contact during these shapes, which was something I longed to see a more of. Naumann added little snippet solos that broke away from the group. The solos were titillating, leaving me wanting more of those highlights to break up the unison.
After reading the program, I was intrigued that NOISE DECAY by Nora Price and Emily Snow contained an improvisational framework that the dancers could work within. At first all of the dancers were huddled on the floor in a clump. They held this position as Emily slowly and deliberately padded towards them. As she got closer to the group, they began to peel away one by one. Emily seemed to be breaking up the group, changing their paths and altering their destinations which allowed for happy accidents of interaction. Perhaps the most vivid moment of the piece was when two dancers were left downstage and center. With a slight pause the girls reached out and touched the other’s sternum with their hands right over the heartspace. The detailed moments of contact were so few and far between in the show that this moment stuck with me throughout the evening. It added a touch of humanity to the sensory overload of loud music and static-filled imagery in much of the concert.
While STARPORT DESTRUCTION SEQUENCE had a few new images thrown into this video interlude, I wanted to see more variety the third time around. Since the dances in the show lacked a clearly outlined narrative to follow, I assumed that the videos were meant define the adventure. While I could tell that there was a story of chaos and war being told, I wished that the videos were able to provide the context that the dances were missing. I wanted to know more about the inspiration of the comics behind the dances. Perhaps in the future, more collaboration could happen between the choreographers and video artist to help further the story for the audience.
The last piece of the evening was a composite of all that came before. SPECTRAL DRIFT started with Amy. She commanded the audience’s attention as she progressed through a repeated movement phrase from FLUX PERIPHERAL. Each dancer joined her one by one. It was extremely gratifying to see everyone in complete unison with the return of the deep, second position plié. At one point the stage was split into two parallel lines with the dancers facing the other side in a showdown. Some of the dancers would move to the middle and repeat solos they had executed from previous pieces. At the end of the piece I saw a reimagining of the opening image of Hannah, but with all of the dancers. The girls were seated at the end of the stage with their backs to the audience. Every other dancer had their elbows up and out, creating a triangular silhouette that was juxtaposed by the curled-up position of the remaining dancers. The end of the dance was choreographed to coincide perfectly with the winding-down of the music and made for a striking final image.
This was my first time seeing work by all of the artists involved in the show. I was not disappointed. The concert was an excellent length with seamless transitions from piece to piece thanks to brilliant playing by Conquer Monster. The dancers wore the same costumes throughout, which gave a sense of continuity. The live music provided the ever-beating heart behind the movement. The videos were interesting despite being a little disconnected from the dancing. I was confused about what was supposed to be happening in the story which made me want to read the comic book and then see the show again. Overall, it is refreshing to see ballet being taken in new directions by Municipal Ballet Co. After speaking with some of the creators involved, they seemed open to working on more projects like this one in the future. This mixed media approach featuring local artists seems to echo a change of times in the performance world, by blending the lines between art forms and fostering collaboration.
Ashley Creek holds a BFA from the University of Utah. She is currently the Co-Director of Brine and a member of Myriad Dance Company. Ashley teaches with Ballet West and performs in different projects around the valley.