Sheen Center, New York, New York.
August 13, 2017.
There’s a certain stereotype of dancers as people who stay quiet, do what they’re told and play by the rules. Yet when it comes time for creating and innovating, in order to truly push the art form forward, performers and choreographers have to learn to color outside of the lines. They must give 200 percent, take risks and not be afraid to falter. Arch Contemporary Ballet (ACB) does just that. The company’s artistic courage and commitment was clear in a recent show including three works, Hues of Memory, Pointe in Motion and Replica.
ACB often engages with the latest technologies, right in performance work. In this trend, Artistic Director Sheena Annalise’s Pointe in Motion used Point Motion, a technology that allows people to make music with their own body. That music, that the dancers made with their very movement, was a little like jazz piano, with riffs, pauses and scales. In the movement, dancers’ extensions reached and traveled through days, and they brought that expansiveness into the movement overall. The Arch dancers had spines like snakes, malleable in an almost super-human way.
The phrase-work demonstrated Annalise’s fluid way of making angularity and circularity move together in a spellbinding way. She offered intriguing use of levels, with floorwork but also several innovative lifts. As one of those lifts, a dancer in a beautiful robin’s blue dress was held high by other dancers behind her knees and behind her shoulders, her body creating a wave in its curves. Other intriguing moments included a catching of a pointe shoe with that leg in arabesque, to release that into a turn.
With floorwork, one dancer swooped around the head of another with his arm, then the two enfolded each other with both arms – a compelling progression that was beautiful to watch happen in and through their bodies. An arabesque into a second position plié facing the complete opposite direction was one of several transitions and longer phrases that were in no way easy. But the dancers went right for it, no hesitation.
There were a few stumbles, awkward holds and the like. Yet Annalise goes for it; in all of her work, she asks her dancers to take the risk, to challenge themselves with something more than they might have thought they could do. That’s commendable, and to an extent important. How else does art grow? An area of potentially fruitful exploration for this work would be playing with spacing such that the backdrop, with billowy clouds in color, could be a further focal point.
The movement was so intriguing and spectacular, and the dancers so gorgeous executing it, that it was hard to take one’s focus away from it. From time to time, one might look at the backdrop and be awed by that as well. Aesthetically, it’s not quite comparable to anything else in collective memory. Visually, with the movement and backdrop together, it’s all a feast. It might add more layers of intrigue to offer a helping or two of that beautiful, mysterious backdrop shining on its own.
Replica took similar risks, to wonderful effect. The lighting came up to be something quite dim. The music had a clicking that evolved into something like a techno beat. The dancers moved in precise lines, and doppeldangers of them were projected behind them. The movement had a grounding and rawness unseen in the prior piece. This was more animalistic, in a truly captivating way. The dancers demonstrated versatility with their facility in both works.
Although there was a lot of sensory stimuli – the driving beat, the multiple dancers (counting the backdrop projections) – it was all clear and clean enough to not feel like sensory overload. It was one of those works of art that you just smile a little to yourself and whisper, under your breath, “So cool!” Annalise’s angular/circular marriage in movement, and daring with things like lifts and creative floorwork, furthered the intrigue.
In one memorable moment, a dancer moved in a space lit with small squares – swooping, extending, moving high and moving low. Two other dancers added spacial tension through facing into her, one on each side, one upstage and another downstage. A bit later, dancers sat toward upstage with their legs spread wide and knees high, a bird’s wings shape. They spun with ease to face front, one leg in front, and moved ribcages side to side in cannon.
At higher levels, another intriguing phrase was holding the calf and curving chest over it, to then raise to vertical with a powerful extension, then turn at a lower level again. Although phrase elements were certainly repeated, we couldn’t exactly know what to expect – new facings, new lines, new lifts, new manipulation of those phrase ingredients. Adding to the mystery, male dancers wore simple white leggings, and the ballerinas white leotards with black striped sections – part of the piece’s visual tension but also part of a sense of it being a blank canvas for interpretation. It just so happens that these were 3D-printed costumes, a technology offering quite a blank canvas for creation indeed.
One might surmise a meaning of the “replicas” as those we create of ourselves in the digital age – on Instagram, on Facebook, on our professional websites, even in texts to family members. If there are different “us”-es, well, that can certainly feel interesting and exciting, but can we really ever know what to expect from ourselves and from each other? Even without this meaning, the piece was aesthetically astounding – and, yes, just cool. ACB ended with perhaps the most frenetic, fast and jaw-droppingly intriguing section yet. The lights went down on all dancers moving in non-unison, in clean lines and in their places. We know for sure that this technological age will only speed up, and only feel even more exciting and interesting – but, yes, unpredictable and just a lot to experience.
Again, even without that meaning, it was all just cool. That’s what artists like Annalise and her company can create, when they dare to find more and make more, to push themselves further and harder. They can make art that reveals important meaning, but that’s also a pleasure to experience. Hats off to these brave, intelligent folks. The world can be a richer, and perhaps more unified, place because of them.
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.