Choreographing the unexpected in LEIMAY’s borders

Encounters with LEIMAY, Studies for Borders, Summer 2015

Encounters with LEIMAY, Studies for Borders, Summer 2015

The BAM Fisher house was buzzing on Saturday night for borders, the latest project creation of Ximena Garnica and Shige Moriya, otherwise known as LEIMAY. As staff members ushered audience members into their seats, the standby line grew to at least two-dozen hopefuls waiting for a chance to see the show. All of this was for good reason. The long-awaited borders was flat-out impeccable.

Every aspect of the performance was an aesthetic dream. The soundscapes, composed by Joe Diebes, were dynamic, ranging from recorded sound clips, performers’ vocalizations, and extended periods of silence. The light show was incredible, featuring rotating high beams and a thick fog that encapsulated the entire theatre. The show’s six performers were fabulous. Throughout the entire performance the audience could only see parts of bodies, a face here, a foot there, a suggestion of an entire body, through the intense lights and smoke. Their movements, individual and collective, created a landscape of anatomy that was impossible to look away from. The result was an air of mystery inviting the audience to transcend into the unknown before and during the performance.

Over the seventy minute run-time, the dancers altered between physical extremes: subtle changes that took minutes to complete and short, sharp movements exploding over the entire performing space. As the show gained speed, the room’s tension rose. The temperature of the room increased, fueled by the body heat of the audience, the smoke from the fog machine, and the energy produced by the performers. As the show reached its climax, the lights dimmed, the stage becoming completely black. The recorded audio stopped. The show’s primal sounds made by the performers increased in volume, the dancers huffing, puffing, crooning, talking, breathing audibly. The lights were still blackout, the performers still performing. Then a door opened in the back of the theatre and the room was lit by a blinding work light worn by a crew member. For a moment, it was pure annoyance, until the lights didn’t go back on, and the sound didn’t resume. The performers kept moving in the dark, breathing, moving, shaking, crying, until it all stopped with a hush, a sound from the back of the theatre. And then we realized this wasn’t planned.

“Shhhhhhhhhh,” the voice said. A work light shined on the source of the sound. It was choreographer Ximena Garnica. “Stop,” she said, her voice steady. She continued: “We’re going to stop. We’re going to fix the machine, and we’re going to go back to the beginning of the section.” She gave her performers and her audience clear directions, calm and confident as if we were all witnessing a working dress.

“Most important, everyone, breathe. Breathe. Breathe. And try to hold the space.”

We held the space. We were quiet. We waited. Within a few minutes, she was back to share that the show would pause for a quick intermission. After a ten minute break, the show would resume. It was up to the audience to receive the work when we returned. And we did.

While the system stopping unexpectedly was any director’s nightmare, the result was a complete gift to the audience. Collectively we had the opportunity to take a moment to prepare for a final few minutes of the show and savor the moment. When the show resumed under the house’s work lights, we could finally see the performer’s wide facial expressions, the minute movements made from their toes and fingers and mouths. We could get an entire view of the individual and collective human anatomy that shaped the work.

Garnica choreographed her audience through the unexpected ending of her show, just four or five minutes of which remained after the intermission. And Saturday night’s performance of borders was no worse for it. After all, this was the reason we were all there. The beauty of live performance is the unexpected, the potential for the show to be different every night that it runs. As a live performance-lover, I’ll go home just as happy, if not more, when a show doesn’t go ‘as planned.’ If I wasn’t I’d be over in the BAM movie theater instead.

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