“Places in Space”
Next Reflex Dance Collective
June 19, 2011
By Lisa Traiger
Copyright © 2011 by Lisa Traiger
The eleven works curated into the dance evening “Places in Space” together read like succinct messages jotted on the backs of postcards depicting vacations in bucolic and exotic locales. Washington, D.C.'s Next Reflex Dance Collective founder/directors Erika Surma and Roxanne Morgan Rowley drew inspiration from outdoor locations, both near and far, and sought ways to viscerally connect with those places choreographically in their evening of mixed works. The pieces created a journey, from “Underneath,” a mesmerizing hand-fashioned installation/performance by dancer/choreographer Sharon Mansur and visual artist Ronit Eisenbach, to the rising and falling suggestive of tidal waters in Dahlia Nayar’s restful trio “aqua alta,” to Surma’s larger group in “Boundary,” hinting at rustling wind, rolling hills and steadfast marble monuments.
Last summer Next Reflex exhibited an interest in space-altering dance when for “Electro Shutdown & The Pea” the company reconfigured Dance Place’s black box theater into a pulsing disco, where lingerie-clad and wigged women strutted, flaunted and reveled in their embodied sexuality. This year’s reconsideration of Dance Place’s space took a tamer tone. Four pre-performance works included “Toilet Tub Tango,” danced on marley on the cement outside the theater, then inside Briana Carper used the bench and video in the main lobby for “Ether,” which felt constricted to the horizontality of the location.
It was Mansur’s and Eisenbach’s “Underneath” that accomplished what site-specific work should: alter a space or one’s experience of that space. In the small side gallery, Mansur strung twine from wall to wall, measuring, cutting, knotting off pieces to create a crazy-quilt loom of string in the confined all-white space, which led to a white curtained passage into the theater. Patrons were forced to stoop beneath the spidery web of twine to pass through white drapery before entering a new world. Mansur in crafting this tangled web, to which later she strung white gravel stones tied with blue strings, remained unruffled, quietly contemplative of her task-oriented performance.
Entering the theater, Tina Fratello’s installation, “Stay/Waiting,” offered a jolt after the serene calm of Mansur’s room-sized art project-cum-performance. Following an S-shaped swath of plywood, the audience meandered the stage passing three women situated in rocking chairs mesmerized as they stared into the gray-blue snow of spent television sets. Later the three writhed, pounded and banged those old-technology TV sets, their cloth coats swinging. The piece does what strong choreography should: creates a world and draws viewers into this lonely, desolate place where silence, blank picture tubes and longing have usurped the lives of these three.
Nayar’s spare trio “aqua alta” worked due to the simplicity and clarity of its structure. Three white planks of sailcloth hung above the stage, while the dancers –- Emily Oleson, Adriane Fang and Nicole McClam -– huddled on the floor, rolled and recovered, rose and fell slowly, their movement gestures growing stronger, denser, more muscular, until finally each in turn lifted a stiffened arm, suggesting a sailboat's bare mast. Then the moving landscape subsided to stillness.
Mansur’s and Eisenbach’s “Underneath” continued following intermission, this time with a rocking chair facing a floor-to-ceiling loom-like hanging of twine. On the program “Underneath” became both commentary and evocation of the other choreography, drawing from concepts of the dances and their choreographic elements; stones, images of water, earth, hills and mountains coursed through the study, which took Mansur from the loom to the rocker, before entering a blue-lit opening in the curtain as she ultimately exited to worlds unseen.
Other works, particularly Surma’s “Boundary” and “24 Hours” and Rowley’s “shhh,” incorporated much amorphous push-and-pull and weight-sharing contact improvisation as choreography but little that was memorable. The darkly foggy trio “Shadowmark,” by Monica Warren, with its quirky birdlike twitches, flexed wrists and beating arms, recalled prehistoric birds in what looked like feathers on Rebecca DeLapp’s costumes. Janet Blair performed the piercing oboe solo, “Piri,” by Isang Yun.
The evening closed with Rowley’s “edge,” featuring Sandra Atkinson and Fratello accompanied by cello and strings by Zoe Keating and One Cello x 16: Natoma. Clad in slips, the two amply endowed women carried stones in their skirts, which they scattered and formed into an open-ended outline of a box on the floor. The workmanlike nature of the piece, and the sense of isolation as these two women scurry and gather, again suggested a need for human connection. Instead, the piece returned to the desolation of the opener “Stay/Waiting” -- the task of laying out the stones disintegrating into chaos, the rocks flying and scattering across the stage, the women ultimately unhinged.
Sharon Mansur in "Underneath," photo by Todd Clark
Published June 20, 2011
© 2011 Lisa Traiger