NOWHERE at Libby Gardner Concert Hall

Before collaborative was compelling marketing it was embedded in the making of concert dance. In the ’30s Martha Graham worked with Isamu Noguchi on Frontier and he went on to design the seat for Appalachian Spring. Merce Cunningham, who performed as “the Revivalist” in that work, went on to have collaborations from Andy Warhol’s pillows in RainForest to scores by Sigur Ros and Radiohead for Split Sides. More traditionally, classical ballet drops were hand-painted and music was carefully designed to house its movements. In these unspoken veins NOW-ID stakes its claim.

It’s true that Artistic Director Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s serious and sharp aesthetic is reminiscent of Graham’s more narrative work and her presentation of Jesper Egelund‘s songs is as magnificent as any ballet orchestra. But NOWHERE also identifies a divergent nature to contemporary collaborations; in the program you won’t only find thanks to cultural partners but logos for hair salons and magazine marketing agreements. In this shift the group finds success, mobilizing outward from audiences attending dance mostly because they are themselves dancers. The resulting evening is met with enthusiasm and projects a think-tank sensibility if a more slick veneer.

NOWHERE begins with Jesper Egelund and Laura Cutler seated symmetrically atop the concert hall frame and highlighting a human-sized hamster wheel. Their music opens space for a duet between Tara McArthur and Brian Nelson. From the moment McArthur enters, choreographic ideas of freedom through restraint are perfectly clear. Her performance throughout provides a haunting meditation on how we fast we might arrive in a moment only to vanish as quickly.

NOWHERE continues shuffling duets and solos alongside brief video from Adam Bateman’s walk home on the Mormon Trail. Bateman also joins the moving action as “The Walker” formally partnering an en pointe with Katherine Lawrence across the stage and relieving expectations by running on the wheel near the end of the work. With six exterior silver seats, the audience can guess just how many mathematical possibilities there might be between the performers which allows our predictions to dissipate, finding enjoyment in watching the action unfold.

Some duets have topical tension about how we arrive and navigate elsewhere. In others a stylistic tension develops between varied performance modalities. Katherine Lawrence is fiercely capable of technical command but some degree of vulnerability seems choreographed out of her reach — an opening chest, a fluid fall, or other liberated idioms. Perhaps this is engrained into the very idea of difference, something inherent to an exploration of place. Yet it’s likely that the company model of periodic convergence is related. With half of the performers arriving a handful of weeks prior to NOWHERE, a lack of time finds its way to the surface. There is certainly magic in a serendipitous moment: the muscle memories of McArthur and TJ Spaur inside crisp partnering, the knowing of Adam’s walking body, the space temporarily losing NOW’s signature blue light in favor of floods of red. But there is enough possibility resonant that further sifting of the material seems not only warranted but desirable.

Ashley Anderson directs loveDANCEmore programs as part of her 501c3 ashley anderson dances. She shares her writing here on 15 BYTES where she is the dance editor. In the spirit of full disclosure she is friends with Tara McArthur and is extremely jealous of Katherine Lawrence’s badass post-partum performance.

Dinomato at Sugar Space

You may have seen an excerpt of Ching-I Chang’s “Dinomato” at the recent “Daughters of Mudson” showcase. The piece was reviewed in SLUG and for the blog alongside 15 BYTES.  As a producer of Daughters of Mudson it’s uncharacteristic of me to write about the piece–– it’s certainly hard to be neutral about something one had a stake in. While it wasn’t my creative work nor my creation, it did have my name attached to  it. That said, I have to confess that upon the first viewing I agreed more with Karin Fenn’s criticisms than I did Danell Hathaway’s praise for the excerpt Ching-I presented as part of the group showcase in the Rose Wagner. In it’s original, excerpted viewing, I felt alienated from the narrative. The title indicated to me that the piece explored boredom, and my knee-jerk reaction was that it was unfair to ask the audience to be subjected to boredom for no apparent reason. My opinion shifted after seeing the work in its entirety at Sugar Space this past weekend. The full version of Ching-I’s work left me noticing small details, the tenderness and harshness which can be shared among dancing partners, and the nature of bewilderment.

“Dinomato” takes its inspiration in part from Andy Warhol and his use of iconic imagery and bland repetition. The audience gathers outside and our narrator, Efren Corado Garcia, appears to tell us what may unfold. He lifts paper to reveal the interior of a small alcove in the theater where we see Temria Airmet and Tara McArthur wearing white dance garb and Andy Warhol wigs while they rearrange cans of tomato soup. Already this felt more fresh for me as a viewer than the previous iteration at “Daughters”. Because we were shown a small glimpse through a window, it felt we were let into a secret that before felt distant and unexplored. I was drawn into the fractured narrative that would unfold and was physically close to my peers in the audience as we were led into a space too small to hold us. Efren soon handed us photos of dinosaur skeletons as a welcome gift and led us into the more forgiving space of the theater. The seats were sparse and in the round, as the audience chose carefully their vantage point Tara and Temria traced vague imagery onto opposite walls with their bodies.

An improvisation followed with each dancer performing solos based on emotive words chosen at random by audience members from a stack of paper. I have a name for dances of this sort, BOSSWIP: Based on Secret Words Written in Private. My dance professor in college invented the term and I’ve tended toward being critical of dances which presume that we should know or care what imaginary terms had helped craft the movements we were seeing. Yet, something about the visual design and the allure of the trio of performers transcended my expectation of what the improvisation would look like. It was clear that Tara drew a card that said “desperate”. Her sad and desperate dance drew me in. On the other end of the spectrum I had no idea what Efren drew but his precise and smooth impersonation of a potato being peeled made me want to know.

Once again the audience was led somewhere new, this time the lobby where Tara and Efren danced a sad duet featuring an upturned couch and the sense that one performer was leaving the other. The walls were covered in curious figures made by Ching-I, as well as two large faces on the wall, one full of color and texture, the other empty. Efren led us past the record player and behind the black traveler. Being a dancer walking through the traveler was a familiar feeling, but the curiosity still built as we emerged on the other side to Temria throwing soup spoons off of a loft onto the floor. Back in the stage space there was more dancing, more soup, more posturing and more text about topics to which the audience wasn’t exactly privy.

I left fundamentally interested in the three curious figures who led me through Sugar Space in a way I’ve never seen it despite having viewed a good bit of dance there. I left wondering how and why they made the dancers made their choices to interact with one another which is, for better or worse, something I think about nearly every day with everyone I see. I left imagining whether the little universe they’ve created is something that Ching-I will continue to explore, and I hope that’s the case.

Dinomato from Jeremy Bigelow on Vimeo.

Ashley Anderson is the director of loveDANCEmore programs through her non-profit, ashley anderson dances.