July 30, 2011

Movement on stage and screen riveting, difficult to dissect


The contemporary dance company zoe | juniper appeared at Bates Dance Festival on Friday evening, performing an edgy multidisciplinary composition by choreographer Zoe Scofield and visual artist Juniper Shuey, co-artistic directors.


WHO: zoe | juniper at the Bates Dance Festival

WHEN: Friday, July 29

WHERE: Shaeffer Theatre, Lewiston

Inspired by Greek tragedy, "A Crack in Everything" is an exploration of time and identity, portrayed by five dancers (including Scofield) along with projected images by Shuey. The piece is brand-new, having just had its premiere at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts.

Unlike more-typical projections that serve as scenic enhancements, Shuey's were integral to the choreography. Dancers moved in front of and behind a scrim made of a silky layer and a brittle layer, upon which other dancers often appeared as projections.

Lighting, by Robert Aguilar, made the scrim almost magical in its transitions from opaque to transparent to reflective, especially when more than one of these effects appeared at the same time.

To a heavy, ominous score by Greg Haines, dancers moved in shapes reminiscent of ancient artwork, perhaps paintings of dancers on Greek vases.

The four women (including Scofield) and one man (Raja Kelly) danced, for the most part, in counterpoint. Their detailed and fluid articulations were punctuated by microscopic pauses, just long enough to highlight sculptural forms.

The ancient feel to the piece was accentuated by the dancers' costumes, by Erik Andor: flesh-toned unitards with ornamentation suggesting skeletons or aboriginal body paint, and black and metallic tunics resembling ancient chainmail.

The piece was filled with mirroring -- from two dancers dancing on either side of the scrim, from projections and from huge suddenly-appearing shadows -- that never quite resulted in unison.

Most of "A Crack in Everything" subtly, not overtly, illustrated the creators' themes. Possibly the clearest portion, from a standpoint of psychological narrative, came when a dancer moved gradually across the stage, drawing with a marker on the clear layer.

She posed her arms and legs in convoluted positions, reaching over and under herself to trace abstract outlines of her form. It was as if she were writing her own life, drawing her movement as it happened or even before it happened.

The red lines remained for the rest of the piece, with a clear human form at one end devolving into squiggles at the other, suggesting intra- and interpersonal struggle.

Also strongly evocative was a section in which the four women danced separately and drifted to the edges of the stage, while Kelly lifted each one and moved her back to the center, as if to say, "No, you're not allowed to leave."

In her post-performance talk, Scofield spoke of the "divineness and horrible grossness" that co-exist in humans. This aspect of her vision may have been the target when two dancers sat in chairs barking at one another, while a third performed lyrically on the other side of the stage.

Some of the most impressive visual projections were color-on-color: images that could have faded into the color of the screen but instead achieved remarkable visual depth.

During one section, an ephemeral projection of Kelly repeatedly appeared and dissolved, looking like a marble relief sculpture. In another, a pale crowd of people in modern dress moved around the screen behind the dancers, suggesting the flow of time into the present.

Both classic and fresh, Scofield's choreography was as relentless as the cello-driven score. Technical highlights included an extended lift in which a woman performed intertwining choreography around Kelly's torso and neck, and the smooth but rapid transitions from such shapes as turned-in fetus-like feet to strong extensions.

For the most part, the movement, on both stage and screen, formed an integral whole difficult to pick apart into individual steps, shapes or intentions. Together, the dancing and visual art created an absorbing, riveting experience for the audience.

Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer, teacher, musician and dancer who lives in Saco.


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