writers on dancing



Mandalas 2005: The Changing will always be...
Murray Spalding Movement Arts
Dancespace Project at St. Mark's Church
New York, NY, USA
May 1, 2005

by George Jackson
copyright ©2005 by George Jackson

Murray Spalding is smart. She knows that taste, talent and technique are not enough to make your mark on today's dance scene even if you have persistence. So this New York-based choreographer from Washington, DC created a distinct niche for herself: making pattern dances, ones with (perhaps) a meditative dimension. Spalding has worked on "movement mandalas" for nearly a decade now and in this program presented 8* of them. The last two, "Mandala IX" and "Mandala X" were premiers.

Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning circle, but has come to denote a design construct, often very elaborate, executed either in inks, colored sand, silks or still other materials. Viewing a mandala is reputed to be conducive to meditation or contemplation and, done regularly, it can teach and temper the spirit. Spalding projects electronic images** of evolving mandalas onto the backdrop as visual preludes to her dances. Each dance is preceded by one pattern being born. The process is simple, transparent: from basic lines and curves one sees ever more complex configurations grow. The simplicity has its counterpart in Spalding's subsequent choreography as well as in Evren Celimli's music, giving the overall performance a minimalist character. One becomes aware that motion or sound repetition is propelled by minute variations of phrases, and that polarities resolve in harmonious balance. Yet aspects of the completed mandala's elaborateness also appear. That happens along the time line, as one remembers sequences of the choreography's floor plan or body groupings or recalls the succession of movements and postures taken by the dancers.

The exercise of good taste was apparent. Nine was the number of dancers, just enough to be deployed in spatial patterns but not so many that the linear delicacy of the mandalas would be obscured. All of the 9 were young women who, as a group, seemed more individual in appearance than a traditional corps de ballet. Yet each dancer shared in a vestal virgin look, showing pride (upright spines, shoulders down and back) and radiating a purity of purpose (determined expressions or dignified smiles). They had modesty but definitely not the humility of nuns. Spalding must be a remarkable trainer because her cast maintained a constancy of character that showed no sign of setting, hardening or cracking. Throughout the course of the 8 dances these 9*** remained fresh.

Not all of the dancers were equally active in every mandala. In some, two or three women stood aside, in position with their arms ready to receive the gift of motion but waiting until perhaps the end to join the dancing dancers. These had turned, looped or tread linearly in a smooth flow and changed arm positions thoughtfully. Never was there excess plastique or fussy port de bras. Typically, the bare feet were in low demipointe, high half toe being reserved for emphasis. If it was the acropolis of Athens that Isadora Duncan brought to life again in her dances, it is the Roman forum that Spalding made me imagine. Her dancers were dressed in long, straight gowns that left the arms bare. When a color change was wanted from the gowns' red, designer Susan Soetaert added saffron aprons that did not alter the statuesque contours.

Spalding's rotations, coils, curves, straight lines and more rotations don't require virtuosity but they do demand refined technical coordination. Mostly the choreographer has a talent for deciding how much repetition will hold her viewers' attention and when change is needed. The last mandala on the program, "X", as the finale, had the most rhythmic and dynamic variety. There was even a vertical vector, jumping. In the preceding dances, novelty was usually the result of floor patterns, groupings or postures. Whether or not the audience is induced to meditate really depends on the individual viewer. If you are not the introspective sort, there's refreshment for the eyes as Spalding spreads out her panorama of patterns. My mind did wander a bit to wonder how a different cast would have altered the vestal image. No, nothing as Bejart as all men, but a few other features among these white visages? Not much change, I suspect, because proud maidens know no ethnic bounds.

* The sequence of Spalding's mandalas was IV, I, VIII, VII, VI, II, IX, X with brief blackouts between numbers.
** The animations of evolving mandalas were by Amy Filbin, Adrea Hull, Rosalind Lord and Spalding; lighting was by Kathy Kaufmann.
*** The 9 dancers were Zoe Bowick, Jennifer Harmer, Marybeth Hurtt, Bridgett Ane Lawrence, Kely Narcum, Melissa Riker, Leslie Roybal, Sarah Platt and Nicole Pope

Volume 3, No. 18
May 9, 2005

copyright ©2005 George Jackson



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last updated on May 1, 2005