Live review | Mordine & Co. Dance Theater | NEXT 2011
Fiction was in short supply on April 30. Granted, if one was in the market for some dreamlike escapism, it was also the closing night of Commissura, one of the spring season’s.
But at Mordine & Co. Dance Theater’s NEXT 2011, the prevailing winds were autobiographical, epitomized in LifeSpeak, a new creation by Shirley Mordine and her dancers, its title taken from a memoir of sorts by Chicago native Parker J. Palmer.
Six dancers in stylish, character-suggestive costumes by cast member Atalee Judy took turns bubbling into focus from a galactic swirl of running and looking. Yet each focal dancer’s path involved others, rightly positing any autobiography as the result of both agency and response.
…In varying proportion. Adriana Marcial’s soul-freeing circuit of the stage, her arms open broadly, was repeatedly interrupted, and erased, in a sense, as her two interceptors always carried her backward along the same track. Later, Adriana Durant appeared more or less alone, her challenge not in overcoming others-as-obstacles, but in forging real progress through blockages within. In between, Emma Draves clawed at the gap between her scapulae as if her hand was possessed.
Fittingly, LifeSpeak’s final image was a modern-dance game of charades. Five dancers sat downstage, their backs to us, while Durant, footlit, moved to convey something restless on the tip of her tongue.
The piece had an original score performed live by Shawn Decker, who watched intently from behind his laptop and soundboard, actively engaged in how he mixed clips of the dancers’ own voices (“I’m an angry person. You need to listen to me,” and “Where are you?” etc.) into his stereophonic noise journey from static, through some violin-harmonica hybrid, to robotic crickets. The last triggered thoughts of what a Facebook or Twitter feed late at night, actionless, might sound like.
Throughout, it seemed less important that we receive something than simply bear witness to it. We were there like a neighborhood watch over the obstruction of Marcial’s freedom, to ensure ears were in the room once/if Durant found her voice. LifeSpeak contested nothing in particular, only the idea that we’re trees falling soundlessly in the forest.
Incidentally, that same night’s Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, which I saw afterward, offered openly personal stories in about ten of its thirty shorts. Reenacted male bonding, calls home to real Grandma, and responses to real-life critics were on the menu, where my last midnight meal at the Neo-Futurarium served up slow-motion end zone tackles and turkey-phone gasp slaps.
Guest choreographer and latest Mordine mentee Alitra Cartman’s Kaleidoscope, inspired by “the play of light and geometrical forms as found in kaleidoscopes,” installed Durant, Marcial, Michelle Scurlock and Yah-Unity Israel in a high-concept vacuum where gestures meant something and, at the same time, nothing. Which is not necessarily a complaint: Dance crafted such that space feels objective is no easy feat. Andréya Ouamba and Reggie Wilson’s The Good Dance – dakar/brooklyn, for example,.
But Kaleidoscope was unfinished—the stark sidelights (Philip Martini’s fine work, as throughout) and music (Autechre, Susumu Yokota) simply faded out after a while, as if Cartman grew bored of the ’scope and turned her attention to a different toy in the chest. Per NEXT tradition, it was the part of the evening set aside to give focus to an emerging dance maker still finding his or her feet. (I wasMordine mentees.)
Other NEXT guests Michael Estanich and Lucy Vurusic Riner are. The Mysterious Disappearance of the Second Youngest Sister wrapped “shards of meaning” like those John Beer in Sylvan Oswald’s Pony in period dress. Danced by the pair, as originally, and the Moving Architects’s Lauren Bisio, the fiercely performed trio was also sourced close to home. As Estanich told me last winter, its authoress main character “gets lost inside the work, loses all control over its development, and then gains it back and gets rid of all the stuff the work said it needed but doesn’t.…Yeah, I guess when you get right down to it, it’s about my own trip through the process of making it.”
Mordine’s Illuminations was the exception to my night’s unofficial theme. It benefited immensely from adjustments made since its premiere on her company’s 40th anniversary program in 2009, although its strengths then—a two-part, Decker and Steve Reich score, and Mordine’s choreography—were essentially unchanged. John Boesche’s projections were more effective, evocative and better integrated, and Judy had made attractive additions, tucks and trims to Jeff Hancock’s original costumes.
The piece is now a finely crafted movement study that “explores time as experienced through the body’s play with gravity, speed, intention and chance,” as its notes describe. It also produced no requests for validation.
Mordine & Co. Dance Theater’s NEXT 2011 played two nights only, April 29 and 30, at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.