writers on dancing


Exploring New Media

New Media
Dance Brigade
Dance Mission Theater
San Francisco, California
December 3, 2004

by Rita Felciano
copyright © 2004 by Rita Felciano

Rooted in street performance, Dance Brigade is one of the oldest Bay Area performance collectives. Kunst-Stoff, barely a decade old, spends much of its time in cyberspace. The two organizations hooked up for a weekend of live and on screen performances which proved that the intersection of technologically controlled and live performance is a terrain which can be explored from myriad directions. Most gratifying to see was the maturity with which the artists, selected by curator Yannis Adoniou, approached the challenge. The 90’s gaga attitude over the wonder of electronics has given way to using technology as a tool to challenge parameters of perception and performance.

The shortest of the five works, featuring live performance and video, also served as a reminder of the ground breaking role that Contraband founder Sara Shelton Mann played in the evolution of Bay Area dance. In the context of this program, hers was the most conventional, almost old fashioned work. Marintha Tewksbury impressively performed a solo from the multi-media “Monk.” She dances a still shot of the inside of a gothic cathedral and to a score of trickling water sounds, Elegant and restrained, athletic moves—hand and shoulder stands—seamlessly spun out of more traditional whipping turns or slides. What probably qualified this beautiful little vignette as new media, was the time-spanning mix of sound, visuals and movement.

Austin Forebord’s “Motion study for the Grief Cycle” was one of the evening's simplest, but purest pieces. It posed dancer Jessica Adams in front of a slightly angled screen with a casing in front of it. Its purpose seemed the imposition of an additional framing device.

The live video feed created double perspectives which competed for attention. While the imaged dancer changed size, receded into the background or became partially obstructed, the live performer remained relatively stable. At times the two dancers looked very much alike, at times they couldn’t have been more different from each other. When the live dancer performed in a circle, lit only from above, her imaged counterpart almost disintegrated. Maybe the work’s most intriguing aspect was the way it posed questions about shifting planes of reality.

Capacitor’s ‘Remote Sensing’, a duet for Zack Bernstein and Jodi Lomask from “Digging in the Dark,” pursued a completely different trajectory, one in which scientific inquiry and circus arts interseced with dance. Except in the most rudimentary way, it was not immediately discernible how “the vibrations and reflections used by geophysicists to explore remote layers of the Earth” was applicable to this performance. Mr. Bernstein juggled a number of balls. Hitting the floor, they activated sensors which revealed sections of a projected map of the world. Ms. Lomask, giant megaphone ear pieces attached to the side of her head, was the bouncing, ground-exploring recipient of mysterious information. As in other of their performances, one was left with understanding, even admiration for what Capacitor is trying to do, while still waiting for that additional step which would take their work onto a more emotionally involving plane.

A triptych—actually two and a half pieces since the DVD cut off unexpectedly—by Ziyian Kwan, consisted of “Birth”, “Ashes/Isolation” and Sadhana”. Elaborately and forcefully edited, it posed the dancer in a natural, quasi tropical environment for “Birth” and an abandoned industrial site for “Ashes/Isolation.” Though very skillfully done, the work, however, was no departure from much what is seen these days in the dance on screen. Also a narrative, explanatory track unpleasantly intruded into this presentation.

The evening’s most complex works came from Kunst-Stoff and The Foundry’s Alex Ketley. Both used live dancers in a video environment.

For the excerpt from “Imprint,” Mr. Ketley balanced being and waiting with movement and action. In the video, which curled back to its opening, grainy non-specificity grew into particular, often recurring and overlapping images. They culminated in several of an oddly clad older man who rummaged and rested in a kitchen.

The ballet-trained dancers (Amanda Stone, Hallie Hunt and Sara Hoenes) sat on chairs and watched each other as one by one they took to the floor in simple liquidly delineated patterns with soft attacks and expressively reaching port de bras. At one point one them intersected another’s trajectory as if trying to ask a question. One of them wore a scarf, apparently related to something going on in the video. A duet didn’t seem to have a particular trajectory except that it seemed right for the moment. A recurring window seemed to invite the dancers in.

The result was a dream-like blend whose essence was more easily sensed than grasped. Curiously the work’s most concrete aspect came through its most abstract medium, the music. Three Otis Redding songs provided something of a grounding for the shimmering uncertainties that floated above them.

The real time “W”, directed by Tomi Paasonen and staged by Mr. Adoniou, projected two dancers, Leslie Schickel and Juliann Rhodes, into a constantly shifting environment created by two hand-held cameras. One of them followed the dancers, the other created an environment out of the dance passages. A fascinating work that pulled you in, it started with one of the dancers advancing in minute steps inside a light beam. The other roamed the space in circular running trajectories. Both of them seemed caught. Gradually, the dancers began to move into overlapping environments and—through video—inside each other’s bodies. While they were captured by the space created for them, they also chased it as it moved up the walls and into the theater’s roof beams. At the climax the dancers desperately beat their fists against a physical through which they couldn’t enter the electronic space nor could they free themselves from it. While the moment had pungency, it also seemed a little melodramatic.

“W” raised age-old questions about the power of image making. Some traditions claim that if you make an image of someone, you steal that person’s soul. Some of those ideas resonated in this fascinating exploration of new media.

An installation of almost a dozen video works—one of them interactive—gave an overview of how dance has entered cyberspace.

Volume 2, No. 46
December 6, 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Rita Felciano


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last updated on November 29, 2004