writers on dancing


New Moves for Miller

Bebe Miller Company
Dance Theater Workshop
New York, NY
October 12, 2005

By Susan Reiter
copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter  

My experience with Bebe Miller's work over the years has made me willing—and eager—to follow wherever she has decided next to focus her keen intelligence and deeply humane spirit. For this new work, she has moved into a more technological realm, adding video projections and animation. The extensive list of credits in the program includes a digital consultant and a dramaturg. But although she has expanded the landscape of her work—and made inventive use of DTW's space, thanks to the use of scrims and the virtuoso lighting design by Michael Mazzola—movement is still very much at the heart of it. And she has five strong, personable ready-for-anything dancers who extract all the layers of inquisitiveness, ambiguity and elegance from the material.

I wasn't always sure I was getting everything that Miller was trying to communicate and suggest in this piece, but I never doubted the wisdom and curiosity behind it. Three miniature wood houses were placed, and occasionally moved, onstage, with one right at the center drawing attention for the way the dancers ignored it as they moved near and around it. A projection of a window with filmy curtains appears at the start, and a couple engages in a duet as though they are arriving through the open window. Small chains of dots, like constellations, appear, floating and swirling—the motion-capture element of the piece, whose delicate, other-worldly quality Miller employs only sparingly.

Composer/musician Albert Mathias, surrounded by elaborate equipment, sits in the downstage right corner, drawing sounds both rich and eerie from an electric guitar held across his lap. When dense, raucous, pulsating recorded music take over, he continues to play along live with it. A woman lurches and dips along with the pulse as though helpless to resist it. One by one the others join her, absorbing the insistent beat, forming a close hip-twitching line-up. Here and at other points in the work, they allow a hint of bemusement and delight to play across their faces.

Press materials cited a trip to Eritrea as a starting point for the work, and this segment as well as a fantastic, celebratory let's-party dance at the end, to a rich, rhythmic song performed by the Ethiopian singer Gigi, seemed to allude to the earthy, pelvis-centered dancing we associate with Africa. But Miller is not one to create a travelogue; rather, one can sense her alluding to unusual encounters and a sense of dislocation as "Landing/Place" progresses fluidly through its sections, with occasional brief blackouts. Text is incorporated at one point, as we hear an awkward attempt at word-by-word translation of a phrase. The video and projections, on both an upstage scrim and a half-scrim close to the front at stage left, include child-like drawings, a road, thick clouds, an expanse of lacey trees, and, near the end, photos of what looks like people in a town, pursuing everyday lives.

What's striking in Miller's performers is their alertness, their deep awareness of one another, and their ability to slip into movement so casually that it seems to surprise them as much as it does us. Certain moments linger in the memory— an odd duet of sensual, unexpected connections; David Thompson pausing to gaze out pensively and knowingly. The odd little ritual with lemons towards the end—a woman serenely hacked them in half with a cleaver, handing a half to dancers passing by behind her, who sucked on them as they kept moving—was puzzling yet hypnotic; the conviction and sense of purpose with which these performers approach every moment, the potent force they combined to create, left me grateful for having been invited along on their journey.

Volume 3, No. 38
October 17, 2005
copyright ©2005 Susan Reiter



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last updated on October 17, 2005