Oxbow — a description (unless otherwise noted)

Eleanor Smith in Ivy Baldwin’s Oxbow. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Eleanor Smith in Ivy Baldwin’s Oxbow. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

[RYAN TRACY]’s piano solo begins the piece, and introduces drama to the stage. Everything seems business as usual, as far as piano solos go (a lot of virtuosity,) until the end. In the final moments of music, [RT] pounds forte, staccato chords out of the piano, each filled with long pockets of silence in between.
Reportage: I become obsessed with the silence, leaning forward in my chair hoping for it to happen again, because I imagine its duration would be highly abnormal if our context was not a dance, but a musical performance proper.

Shaking from extended posing and muscle fatigue + inverted balance during the first solo, performed by [ELEANOR SMITH] = one form of rigor
Detail: No heavy breathing

Duet with [ES] and [ANNA CARAPETYAN], both of whom wear conservative, semi-high-up-executive-type white and black pants (respectively) and [AS] wears a red top.

[LUKE MILLER] bounds onstage wearing all white.
Reportage: See below, with regards to my experience of [LM]

Shapes, sound structures, and unison lines through space dominate my attention.
Detail: Front kicks & arm slices; flocking/floating/flying/hunting/pouncing

[LM] leaves [AC] to join a trio, as [AC]’s solo becomes briefly explosive.
Reportage: Re-[AC]’s solo: A prelude for what’s to come.

[KATIE WORKUM], in a red jumper/pant suit bounds in, expanding the performative world we’ve begun to try to understand.
Reportage: [KW] either performs or actually has a holding pattern between scapulae, which causes her shoulder girdle to move as a single unit through space. Does this rigidity make her gazelle movements look more prehistoric, hulking, shapely?

An oscillation of ball and socket joints—shoulders and pelvis turn inside and out.

An awkward transitional moment, as if none of the five performers are sure which collective or unique energies to embody.

Unison as a way of breaking a pattern of repetition.
Reportage: In my notes, I wrote “hip-wriggle mirroring”, which occurs between [LM] and [KW]. The unison seemed like a new way to communicate presence, as if to say, “I’m no longer in my own world. I am here with you.”

Katie Workum and Luke Miller in Oxbow. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Katie Workum and Luke Miller in Oxbow. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

A moment of drama when [ES] runs her fingers across the piano keys, creating cacophony, using her body to mimic how she imagines a maestro composing a dirge in a broken-down castle by candlelight might look, before falling in line with the rest of the herd, during which the dancers run contralaterally with clawlike fingers and large strides across the diagonal of the space.

Reflective Aside: In discussing Oxbow just after the show, a friend and I both drew the conclusion that the work is almost perfectly portable—all five dancers stay in the same costumes from beginning to end; most performance spaces can materialize a piano; the choreography seems like it could fit into differently-sized spaces—except for the set. A massive, fallen tree installation spans the entire width of the stage. (Sometimes a dancer performs behind it, in a little alcove, as the others dance together downstage. I found this to be the most effective use of the tree, because it allowed us to consider the significance of groupings, and how Baldwin addresses what she wants the audience to pay attention to and when.) It’s as if Baldwin was creating a show meant to be entirely about the dancing and form, then either A. decided to throw herself a curve ball and add a massive, non-subtle visual for us to process the movement alongside, or B. had been collaborating with Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen from the start, and had trusted them with creative freedom to create a massive and/or derived-from-their-own-interests (as far as scale goes) extra-choreographic installation.

[LM]—with sweeping limbs, facial expressions like ominous clouds rolling in, sweat flying onto the first row of audience, ability to listen responsively—is a phenomenon.

A Darth Vader-like, organ-juggling roll, during which the performers roll like enlivened yet slow-motion logs across the stage, creates a sensation of total suspension—of both gravity and time.
Clarification: It is “Darth-Vader-like” because the sound the character makes in the movie when he breathes through his mask is similar to the one emitted by the performers as they roll.
Reportage: I almost feel [EM]’s diaphragm contracting, expanding, compressing, and releasing in an a-rhythmic sequence.

[AC] jumps in a form similar to an Italian changement for at least thirty seconds, maybe longer.
Reportage: It feels wrong not to respond to her through some gesture, audible or physical, in return.

The dancers kick and scream as they move from stage right to stage left. A shift in tone.
Reportage: RoseAnne Spradlin choreographed a similar revamped/deconstructed high kick series into her dance g-h-o-s-t-c-r-o-w-n (working title). Spradlin’s lasted a good deal longer, and in both dances the movement served different functions. And yet, the question of cross-pollination through dance performances is a curiosity that keeps coming up:

● In both Jennifer Monson’s most recent version of Live Dancing Archive and Neil Greenberg’s This (it hasn’t premiered yet, but I’ve seen a work-in-progress version), the dancers propel themselves forward onto their stomachs like seals.
● Both Cathy Weis, performing during her “Sundays on Broadway” series, and Larissa Velez Jackson, during Star Crap Method at The Chocolate Factory, manipulated semi-unwieldy mirrors across the stage on wheels to obstruct and duplicate the images we saw on stage.
● Luke George and Hillary Clark have dramatic, funny, then suddenly-not-funny meltdowns in Not About Face, as did Cynthia Oliver and Leslie Cuyjet in BOOM!.

The Cross-Pollination Curiosity has several entry points: How does a similar movement or shape come out of two wholly unique processes? Why doesn’t that happen even more than it does? Why, during what is presumably a considered, lengthy editing process, do choreographers reach the separate but ultimately similar conclusions about why these movements work for the particular dances they are making? What makes these movements versatile, recognizable, layered, visceral, universal?

Ivy Baldwin’s Oxbow. (L to R): Anna Carapetyan, Eleanor Smith, Ryan Tracy, Luke Miller (hidden), Katie Workum. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Ivy Baldwin’s Oxbow. (L to R): Anna Carapetyan, Eleanor Smith, Ryan Tracy, Luke Miller (hidden), Katie Workum. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Non-diegetic sound is introduced, and causes another moment of suspension in time.

[ES] balances on one leg.
Reportage: I look across the space and I see that a member of the audience who sits in the front row has fallen asleep.

The end of the dance is ushered in when [AC] performs a solo, similar to the one [ES] danced in the beginning. As [AS] balances in precarious forms, sickles her feet, flits around, and falls, giving her weight to gravity, she has a physical, real-time dialogue with risk.
Reportage: I will never not appreciate risk.


Ivy Baldwin‘s Oxbow ran at BAM Nov. 13-16 2014

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