Monday, October 11
Friday, October 8
Artist's note about the set design
A note: The blog submitted by Tom Milewski mentions a lighting sequence midway through the piece- it was actually a video projection which I specially designed for the set of tapered columns, combined with the internal lights inside each column. Judging from the many comments I received on the visual design, I was pleased that my work did not seem to come across as recognizable video. Thanks to all who took the time to review Vessel.
Where can I get one of those dresses?
When I saw Vessel performed as a final rehearsal up at Centrum last Friday afternoon, I really didn’t know what to expect. Ushered up to the JFK Building on the sprawling former Army fort, I entered a room filled with slanting filtered sunlight, some Marley thrown on the wooden floor where the dancers performed. The same floor where two rows of folding chairs contained the audience. There was no backstage so I could watch the dancers warming up, waiting between scenes. Behind the performance space was a stage clearly in use for something else – the backdrop of old timey Pacific Northwest expostion distracting me as I wiggled impatiently on my folding chair. The preview performance was predicated by some exposition. The solo by the dancer in the black dress was not performed.
Everyone should have the opportunity to end his or her work week with the privilege of witnessing dance. This experience transformed me more than a cocktail or a nap ever could. I usually go non-verbal on Fridays around 6:00 p.m. but after watching Vessel, I was jazzed.
So what changed between then and what I saw at the world premiere last night? When it all comes together, lights, music, costumes, you might expect the physical performance to be that much more finely honed. I have to say that this ensemble gave it their absolute all both times.
To call this an athletic performance is an understatement. My Pilates teachers would be horrified if I attempted even one of these moves – I’d be in traction for a month. At times the dancers were visions of measured frenzy; at other points they were masters of deliberation and control. I saw images of birds, women in pain, glimpses of seduction, brute animal strength, absolute determination.
Maybe this is more than you want to know about me but usually I fall in love with one dancer because frankly she or he is better, prettier, more interesting in her movement, attitude, scope, amplitude. This didn’t happen. The entire ensemble was so strong and the choreography so finely blended that I fell in love with them all.
The pairs work immediately defined trust with exquisite timing and totally fluid movement. Then a third dancer is added and the three deftly switch out who is in the center, being lifted, assisted. Two dancers support one who is allowed to be as deliberate and free as she needs to be. A fourth dancer joins them and the exchange of focus stays completely fluid.
I noticed a very careful usage of facial expressions. Only occasionally was there a calculated look of surprise, seduction, pain but this was rare, usually only in the solo performances. One repeated gesture as kind of a signature flourish to end a dancer’s piece was a bold, challenging look right at the audience, almost with defiance and satisfaction.
I really liked the visual design, all those big bamboo-like poles lit from within, flickering at one point in time with the music, like light rain falling on the gamelon. The musical compositions and the choreography reflect a true and strong partnership. The music never receded for me. It was always emotional.
I have to mention the groovy fur dresses – they rocked. My friend in the audience wants to buy one. But the red dresses were hot – simple red sheer shifts. Especially when all seven dancers were on stage.
This was my favorite part. The whole unit of all seven dancers morphed squirmed and changed creating an intricate intimacy of striking tableau with impeccable timing. The flow of the group seemed to provide its own protection, spinning like a giant amoeba, knifing turns like a school of fish responding to some unspoken instinct.
The ending was different from what I saw up at Centrum. This one is much more dynamic and dramatic and was served better by the lighting and the set. This is where I feel privileged to have witnessed the process of the dance’s evolution.
Women, Creatures, and Sunbathing Lizards
gigantic toothpicks, I thought
chopsticks, says my friend
marley is so smooth it looks like the surface of a calm lake
a solo dancer appears, stillness, silence
she picks up one leg looking like a grey flamingo
she arches, crouches, every move as deliberate as the last
she ends as she began
I miss the music
then sound and a second dancer with urgency
holding on to dangling pieces of her costume
a firefly is stuck inside the chopstick
a third dancer, more excitement, more energy
legs, feet, positions balancing on the knees
sultry walks and furry costumes
like a rare breed that we've only just discovered
a fourth dancer, the stage is filled with feminine power
a fifth dancer returns us to solo
she is wearing shoes, she has no fur
she's like a housewife
two enter hand in hand, evil twins from "the shining"
one twin I see alone
her hair rebounds from her body's undulations
she tries to tell us something in an unknown language
I hear chipmunks
three dancers in a line
in and out of unison and canon
an optical illusion
one falls with abandon
they scatter on the floor
are they sunbathing lizards?
they look at us
back to solo
she holds something
she takes us through a journey
chopsticks come to life
lava lamps, hallucinogenic
moving, vibrant, two hot coals
a new face, black hair, black wear
her hands come to life, she opens her mouth
someone in red
suspending a leap in mid-air
breathing, working against the boulders
a new creature appears
she's in a world alone
as six other figures move around like busy bees
then a line forms
they look at us
the fireflies are back
fallen port de bra
waves of heads
women protecting women
girls in a playground
suspending each other in the sky
a person leaves the theater
the mood darkens, the sound is prominent
are they bugs, insects?
I hear a bug zapper
laying down to rest
I saw an evening
to be exquisitely executed
Mary Sheldon Scott makes pictures, and pictures are still. From the beginning of Vessel, her collaboration with composer Jarrad Powell, she choreographs via sculpture, showcasing a seemingly inexhaustible talent for design. Exquisite dancers move sharply, gloriously, from clarity to clarity. They string holy poses like rosary beads.
When the music quickens, the pictures go fast forward. Movements become short, angry--- not angry as in anguished, but possessed with a blank violence---the furious mechanical staccato of a manual typewriter. Snapping in and out of intricate mechanical puzzles of two or three, the dancers embody the wheels and grinding teeth of a ferociously technical and fascinating clockworks.
It is breathtaking, and after a few minutes, profoundly uncomfortable. There is no relief. No momentum to soothe with swing or easy movement. Just body pictures, one after another. Rapid freeze-frames of beauty, and the occasional odd negative: blank faces sometimes flicker with a mask of faux emotion---lips drawn in a perfect, startled “O,” or a smooth jaw thrust forward in the ghost of a snarl.
Glowing rods tower over the dancers, and electronic music hangs in the air. The audience, caught in an eerie computer chip world, shifts restlessly in the dark. They lean forward, breathe quietly. Attention is strung like telephone wire.
Then, a woman rises up to the balls of her feet. Swaying, she seems to balance on invisible stilettos. She glides forward. For one long measure, she swings oiled hips in lazy Latin rhythms. She dances.
Desire comes. It seeps into the space between pictures. And sex seers the machine driven world.
As quickly as it arrives, the languorous Latin movement is gone. And it is never repeated (although it is parodied in vaudeville jerks and smirking staccato half-counts). But the seed is planted. Sensuality lingers. Gradually, the clockwork dancers are rendered human and their ropes are made visible. Snatches of lyricism reflect a yearning for freedom, and bits of everyday movement ---- a clasped hand, a purposeful walk--- leap out of this exotic mechanical landscape, and shock you with the beauty of the familiar.
Thursday, October 7
Watching Allison Van Dyck fold and unfold her legs at the opening of _Vessel_, watching her thighs flex and her feet curl, my own muscles vibrate in response. I've had a similar response to previous works of Mary Sheldon Scott/Jarrad Powell Performance; I had a kind of epiphany to the way Corrie Befort lowered her foot to the floor in _Kingdom_. Scott's choreography draws me into the quality of movement---sometimes languid, sometimes aggressive, sometimes nervous and bird-like---how each gesture is articulated, how the muscles shape themselves. It's like watching tigers lope or antelopes run; the whole animal moves, each limb of its own accord. Most human beings---even dancers and athletes---move from their brains. Scott's dance springs from the sinews, the blood, the meat, and it gives even moments of ungainliness a kind of organic, affectless beauty. I don't know how one conceives of this kind of movement, let alone communicates it to other people.
The set, lights, and music of _Vessel_ fuse together magnificently, creating an environment which the dancers inhabit. To me, consumed as I am with this whole animal interpretation of the dance, it felt like a rainforest---but not a soft fuzzy rainforest in which the animals live in harmony; the hungry, erotic, consuming, violent drive of nature was always present, as deep in the movement as our bones are in our flesh. The dancers wore grey, black, or red sheaths, often with short fur tutus that were simultaneously comic and sensual. The whole ensemble was impressively in concert, but solos by Michelle Burgess de la Vega and Jess Klein (who hung and clambered on a couple of furry blocks) were particularly vivid.
One patron I spoke with afterward felt the dance was bound and inhibited, which baffled me. I found it distilled, honed, sharpened like a claw---which, in my life, is how true passion expresses itself. Ecstasy can be wild and unbridled, but passion demands concentration and focus, needs to feel every stretch, every ripple, every squeeze. Passion lives in the details, in the fiber. Watching Scott's work wakes me up in my very cells.
Tuesday, September 14
Scott-Powell / Random Thoughts
Okay, here goes. I should establish right off that I do not have an extensive dance background, so I'm coming at this from a theater perspective and/or as a regular joe.
For the most part, I quite enjoyed the piece. The dance was athletic and precise, and the design work was top notch.
Robert Cambell's set consisted of a bare stage, with large tapering columns resembling giant chopsticks arranged mid-tumble along the upstage wall, like dominos. The pylons were translucent, and lit in some way from within or perhaps from behind. Whatever the case, there is a spectacular lighting sequence by Ben Geffen about half way through that I could have watched all night. Really enchanting.
The costumes by Tasa Gleason and Molly Scott were great, particularly in the first half. The dancers wore tight gunmetal grey dresses with bustle-like arrangements of feathers and fringe that managed to simultaneously evoke 19th-century ballerinas, birds, and beasts without becoming literal.
Can't say much about the music other than it seemed appropriate and was well integrated into the piece.
The movement itself consisted of a series of repeated motifs that variously suggested classical ballet, tawdry come-on, yoga sun salutations, equestrian prancing, stinging scorpions, and the fractal flocking of birds. There was a long stretch of stillness at the top of the second half that, combined with the dim lighting and the enchilada sitting in my stomach, almost put me to sleep. But things picked up again and ended with an all-company number in red that was truly a pleasure.
Sara saw a preview...
I hope you'll allow me a few concessions before I begin: 1) I work at OtB 2) I don't consider myself a writer 3) Most of the time I don't feel like I "get" modern dance, although I like watching it, I support it, I think it's important and I have even taken modern dance classes.
None-the-less, I wanted to write because the world premiere of Vessel will happen at OtB in just two days and I am lucky because last Friday, I got to see a preview of the piece (albeit w/ out costumes, set, tech). Not only that, I saw it in the outstanding community of Port Townsend which has turned a former military fort into a place where artists can retreat, reside and create... beautiful Centrum. Molly, Jarrad and seven of their strong, spunky, delightful (and really, really flexible) dancers had just finished a 10 day residency there, where they worked to polish and refine the piece before its premiere.
I've seen MSS/JPP three times now. Each time I am reminded of the visual artist Andy Goldsworthy, who works in the natural world, creating art out of the already pristine landscape and its resources.
Here's an image of one of his scupltures
Goldsworthy will do remarkable things, like search the ground for a perfect spectrum of fall leaves and painstakingly, lovingly, arrange them in a way that brings out something more than was available with just their untamed natural beauty
Here's a picture of one of Andy's fall leaf black holes
In my mind this is an incredibly rare feat - someone able to take an already, intrinsically beautiful thing that exists in nature, and then manipulate it to a state where it becomes even more interesting, more beautiful, more captivating, more exquisite. It is this way with Molly and Jarrad. Their work feels natural, organic, and raw to the core. Instinctual. Yet, in witnessing it, you are moved into a spiritual world. They seem to reference the natural world, but honor it further by adding on the best of human intent, intelligence and respect. The work evokes something primitive and also profound. This feeling captured in music and movement is then applied on eight beautiful dancers. Molly seems to have considered carefully the strengths and spirits of each woman, as the choreography (a mixture of solos, duets and group work) seems to blend eight distinct individuals into a vibrant, poignant, primitive human tapestry.
another image by Andy Goldsworthy
I was simply captivated and hope a lot of people will make an effort to see it during the really limited run (it's just 3 nights folks...)
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