Susan Marshall @ BAC
Susan Marshall & Company celebrated its 25th anniversary last weekend with a pair of works using both performance spaces at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. The company is at New Haven’s Festival of Arts and Ideas (curated by Cathy Edwards) with versions of both works opening tomorrow and running through Saturday.
On opening night at BAC, Frame Dances was a live-feed video and movement installation performed in the Howard Gilman Performance Space at 7pm and Adamantine, a 2009 concert dance work, followed in the Jerome Robbins Theater at 8. Both works were originally commissioned by Peak Performances @ Montclair. The 2008 Frame Dances, with video design and projections by Ryan Holsapple and Roderick Murray, builds upon a charming section from Marshall’s Bessie-winning 2006 Cloudless. The video (without a live-performance-feed) of that work began the evening, priming the audience for the ensuing material – images of bodies negotiating confined space, set to evocative music selections by the delightful Peter Whitehead, before Sandstone, a dirty duet for Joseph Poulson and Kristin Hollinsworth performed live in a sandbox frame, presented them with the dueling realities of process and product. The pristine detachment of the mediated images do not reflect the messy, human labor and effort involved in generating them. The videos define a single perspective and offer no peripheral information. When a dancer is out of the frame, they are absent – visually and artistically; however, for the various audience members encircling the live performers for Sandstone and its companions Green Green Grass and Forward, the dancers outside the box provide a very animated, ontological element. We can still see them there, standing just outside the camera’s purview. Their existence – being “one who is just about to enter” or “one who has just left” – provides the audience with a constant presence that isn’t weighted as heavily in the resulting images. Their proximity offers the dirty, giggly, sweaty truth behind the slick images. Green Green Grass, in particular, is a chaotic circus on the outside, full of a large, multi-generational group of players continually changing Mary Kokie McNaughter’s costumes. The constant rush of off-camera quick-changes, the negotiation of one young boy’s shift out of his wheelchair, through the frame and back into his wheelchair, and the rapid pulling and piling of the in-frame choreography make a playful performance work and the working of the convention of performance into play. There outside the edges, we see a kind of barn-raising communal effort of shared responsibility and care. The resulting video is so tightly executed and glossy that it seems ripe for a color copier ad that fleetingly hints at those values while in pursuit of an assembly line of bodies. In fact, I’m surprised it wasn’t ripped off in the time it takes to say Improv Everywhere versus T-Mobile.
Adamantine is a multimedia work featuring live music by Peter Whitehead (with Elton Bradman), sound design by Jane Shaw, costumes by Olivera Gajic, and shadowy projections courtesy of Mark Stanley. Her company of impressive dancers Kristen Hollinsworth, Luke Miller, Joseph Poulson, Petra van Noort, and Darrin Wright with newest member Ildiko Toth put forth an impressive effort, but Adamantine notably lacks the kind of luster or edge that its title promises. The work definitely hammers away at the viewer with repeated images and an often pounding industrial score, but lacks in the ethereal wonder of Cloudless, the raucous intimacy of Sawdust Palace, and in general, the signature wit of a widely acclaimed artist (other than Whitehead’s charming on-stage moments) whose investigations seem stunted here. The work was developed during a residency in Montclair’s Alexander Kasser Theater, and in keeping with Marshall’s process includes sequences inspired by items the company found in the space. However, it’s hard to call Marshall a found object artist, too many of the material items being played with don’t accumulate beyond moments of gimmickry into a cohesive idea. And, other than Hollinsworth’s luscious swaying moments standing over an underlit floor fan or steaming under a low-hung lamp with Miller, there are few opportunities to enjoy her company as the fascinating individuals they are. For a work touted as in intersection of dance, sound design, visual art, and theater, Adamantine feels like standard concert dance fare.