Saturday, June 2, 2012

Brian Brooks: A Scientific, Sculptor's Mind Choreographs

Big City. Photo: Matthew Murphy
Brian Brooks does not lack imagination or ambition. His latest opus, Big City, premiered at the Joyce last week as part of the Gotham Dance Festival. The most prominent element is the set, by Brooks with Philip Treviño: a forest of segmented aluminum square tubes and the pulleys and weights suspending them, lit to dazzling effect by Treviño. The downstage tubes are lowered so some of their segments lie onstage, like a kneeling person's shins.

Bryan Strimpel, who has become prominent in recent seasons as a collaborator and duet partner with Nicholas Leichter (catch their show at Joe's Pub next weekend; they're astonishing together), steps on another dancer's body like he's rolling a log, and makes intricate spiraling motions with his arms. The movement proceeds through his arms and upper body (Brooks has done entire dances with just the upper body), like a complex sign language. He engages Brooks in a roiling, intriguing bout of contact improvisation, but it loses steam when it grows to include a larger group. 

The dancers pull on the ropes so some of the sticks levitate, straightening in the process. Their facades catch the light, glinting hypnotically. The dancers wear brightly-hued orange or maroon suits or dresses designed by Roxana Ramseur, another sign of the title's setting. Jonathan Melville Pratt wrote the score of cascading guitar and cello lines that builds in dynamic and volume. 

Brooks seems to think as much like a scientist or visual artist than as a choreographer. He conceives of a kinetic experiment involving the body, and works through it to the point of exhaustion. We see gorilla-inspired knuckle walking, and partnering riffs where the suspended one bounds on his/her toes. Brooks performs the most grueling tasks himself, allowing a woman to  step only on his hands or other body parts in a perverse co-dependency. But these exercises hold somewhat fleeting interest, and don't quite hold together as a coherent choreographic statement. It's the magnificent set and lighting that give Big City its engine.

Speaking of, also of note on the program was Motor (2010, excerpt). Brooks and David Scarantino reprise some of this punishing duet in which they only hop to get somewhere. The facility (and I won't say "ease" because it ain't easy) with which they move this way is impressive, positioning their arms and suspended leg in various ways. They eat up space, hop backwards, and make loops and other formations. The original work was performed in another elaborate set of braced cables radiating from a blindingly lit center. Without that set impeding space, they were more free to travel, and we could better see the oddly engaging obsessiveness of Brian Brooks.

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