Dance going deep inside: The Moving Architects’ ‘Loneland’

Erin Carlisle Norton in The Moving Architects' 'Loneland'.
Erin Carlisle Norton in The Moving Architects' 'Loneland'.

Premiered June 3, 2021.
Streaming via YouTube.

Dance is an abstract art form; the meaning or creative inspiration behind a particular work might not be readily apparent. That can be the exciting part, gazing into how choreography and accompanying design elements can speak to meaning, theme or the building of a particular atmosphere. In that gazing, three different audience members can come away with three different meanings, and none of them are “wrong.” Artist statements and other program notes can offer a window into how a work came together and what it is for the artist, yet not all audience members read those (and it’s a legitimate choice not to).

Yet, hearing from artists themselves about meaning and the creative process can create a different experience of viewing, a deeper level of understanding and a peripheral sort of connection to the artist as a creator and a human. The Moving Architects’ virtual Loneland program offers that more profound layer of meaning through dance film solos that illustrate personal experience, each with a short video introduction from the company member who created and performs the work. 

Short interludes between these solos and longer works feature the whole company dancing, and each calls upon a fresh and daring aesthetic (the result of collaborations between Artistic Director Erin Carlisle Norton and Visual Artist Gwen Charles). These are compelling, enjoyable and — being group works — refreshing after the 18 months that we all just experienced. Yet the evocative solos, with their introductions bringing richer meaning, is what truly stand out to me — so this review will dive into those works.   

The Unknown, choreographed and performed by Zoe Kaplan, is full of attuned physicality and shades of gray amidst brightness. In her spoken introduction, Kaplan notes the uncertainty of this time and learning to be in harmony with it. Kaplan moves in an open field, and she seems to savor — or at least be highly aware of — the sensation within her own body. 

She expands and closes in, moves faster and slower in alignment with tempo changes in the score, grounds closer to the earth below her and lifts away from it. Although with strength and precision, there’s also a soft receptiveness to her movement, which her thigh-length flowing dress at times accentuates. Its darker color allows Kaplan to pop out from her natural green and sun-soaked surroundings, a clarifying and pleasing visual effect. 

Her dynamic, multilayered movement brings an exciting uncertainty of its own; I can’t know what will come next, and stay with every nuance of her movement to find out. Yet, one might also see in it a certain turbulence that can result from lack of certainty — something that can cause much of our mental and emotional disturbance. 

Just before the very end of the work, she runs off toward the edge of the field, as if bravely heading into that unknown. One interpretation could be that in finally releasing from fear of uncertainty, she could move into greater freedom and expansiveness. In any interpretation, her movement is multilayered, honest and satisfying. 

In the final frames, the camera slowly shifts up to the clouds, the sun peeking out from behind. This image is both breathtaking in its majestic, natural beauty but also a reminder of yin and yang, the dark and the light. The uncertain can be frightening, but so much wonder can also be found within it. 

Bethany Chang’s Frequently, But Check In Soon portrays a compelling exploration of movement wrapped in classical elegance. In her introduction to the solo, she describes not dancing for a year and coming to accept that her body was in a different place — as part of that, having different interests and inclinations. Under a structure with the pillars of classical architecture, she wears a shirt with folds reminiscent of a Roman toga. Her demeanor is proud and stately to match. 

Chang’s movement begins slow, gentle and introspective — and gradually grows faster, more virtuosic and more presentational. In those latter qualities, despite not dancing for a year and whatever expectations she might have for herself, her virtuosic chops are clear. Backbending, intentional gaze and allowing physics to make the movement happen (rather than forcing it) shine through. 

She lunges deep, turns fast, releases a leg from a turn to bend deeply into wide plié to initiate more movement. With the sun shining down on the space outside the structure and the lush greenery all around, there’s a feeling of harmony with nature and her own self — body, mind and soul. In that harmony, she seems to have found a place where she can explore her body’s possibilities from a stable foundation. 

She reaches upward at the end, almost as if in some sort of praise — or perhaps recognition of the spiritual experience of dancing. Can we find the ancient and divine within our very body through movement? That’s an open question for viewers to receive and do with it what they will — but the question has been offered, and that can be the meaningful part. 

Indigo Sparks’s Ode to Spring is a true ray of spring warmth and sunshine. There is some technical movement — footwork, bending deep into a plié, several turns — but it seems more about the joy possible in simple movements, in moving in a beautiful place on a beautiful day. She moves amongst artful, attractive structures, adding to the joy and appeal of her movement and joyful presence. Moments of film editing slow down her continuous turning, adding further energetic and aesthetic layers. 

In her introduction, Sparks shares that the dress she wears in the solo has a lot of meaning for her, and it’s indeed beautiful in a simple, elegant sort of way. As she moves, it’s clear that she loves moving in it, a love that she generously shares with viewers. The work is a reminder that some art can simply make us smile and feel lighter — and that can be more than enough.  

Bubble Explorations, choreographed and performed by Carlisle Norton, is a unique and memorable exploration visually, energetically and kinesthetically. She dances in a giant bubble blown up with air, in a dark blue one-piece costume that visually sets her apart from the white of the bubble. She seems to move in accordance with how and where her body wants to explore — and is fully enraptured in the exploring. This is focus, pure and simple — a striking and memorable thing to witness. 

The score enhances the rhythm and sounds of her breathing, further bringing us into her movement experience — one of solitude, but a solitude full of creative possibility. Editing cuts to different angles and repeats of certain moments add something unpredictable and intriguing to the simple concept of her moving alone in a bubble. The final product is both layered and pleasing in an uncomplicated way. 

5th Avenue Hideaway, performed and choreographed by Aria Roach, investigates, in movement, the sense of imposed isolation that we all experienced throughout COVID — however crushing at points, not without its own kind of beauty. 

It starts simple, Roach standing in a restaurant’s indoor enclosure — a COVID safety measure that came to fascinate Roach and gain her admiration, and which became part of her vision for the piece, she explains in her introduction. A score of humming, as she also describes in her introduction, was also creative inspiration for the piece — a score with somehow simultaneous warmth and foreboding. 

Mundane gestures, such as her putting up her hair and sliding her fingers along wood, bring us into her unembellished moment-by-moment experience, if only for a few moments. Roach’s movement becomes bigger and faster as the piece progresses, in her own little hideaway — with size, power and lots of fresh, compelling gestures. 

She wears a yellow romper, bringing a brightness, yet the somber, nostalgic quality of the humming is a reminder of the isolation and realities at hand through COVID. Just as with each solo in Loneland, hearing from Roach about the inspiration for her very indualized solo brings deeper understanding and more to take away from the piece. Yet, there are further layers and more for viewers to find according to who they are and how they see the world. Ah, art is magical!  

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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