Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tinkerers at Play Among the Sculptures

Photo by Rebecca Greenfield
Twinned, a Met Museum Presents collaboration between Alarm Will Sound and Dance Heginbotham, pushed the dance/music partnership farther than ever. Musical choices form the common ground between the two groups, who performed in the soaring American sculpture court on a temporary stage centered around St. Gaudens' elegant golden Diana sculpture (the performers moved around the sculptures in situ, at times playing hide and seek among them). The performance included compositions by Edgard Varèse, Richard D. James, and Tyondai Braxton, plus transition segments by Raymond Scott marked by their scratchy recording quality and projections of ones and zeroes wallpapered over the entire courtyard.
Photo by Rebecca Greenfield
The two dozen or so members of Alarm Will Sound, led by the intrepid Alan Pierson, move nearly as much as Heginbotham's seven dancers. The musicians entered and took unorthodox positions before the action began—one kneeling, head resting on trombone; another lying on her side. Pierson strode dramatically to the podium, where he placed his large e-tablet containing his score (pic here), and began Varèse's Intégrales, which emphasized antiphony and the specific placement and directionality of sounds. Each instrument could be heard clearly, like a jungle full of animals rousing and crying out in turn. The piece ended with a huge crash of percussion, like the loudest thunder clap marking the end of a storm.

The piccolo, flute, and clarinet players had it easier than the cellist or bass drummer, who pushed her instrument around on wheels, but everyone moved swiftly and decisively as staged. (Some seemed to run in an overly dramatic fashion in leather soled heels that added to the percussion, intentionally or not.) A player stood on the second floor balcony, others were placed at a distance, near the Tiffany stained glass installation. The primary orchestra setup sat behind the dance stage, in front of the 1822 bank building facade, dramatically lit red, violet, and blue. The stage was bounded by LED floor units which offered great lighting flexibility and control. In general, the production values were impressive, particularly for a one-night event.

Photo by Rebecca Greenfield
Two dancers took the stage wearing geometric, b&w print leotards and white K-Swiss kicks (costumes by Maile Okamura). The energetic movement involved sharp punches and kicks, angular limbs, and precise maneuvers reminiscent of a drill team, to Richard D. James' jazzy, whimsical score played by the orchestra now gathered in the "pit" around Pierson. Like the composers in the program, Heginbotham is a tinkerer—cobbling together odd gestures such as protruding tongues, Chaplinesque arm spins, and circling wrists with childrens' moves like pony steps and traveling chassées. Three more joined, including John Eirich in a long white caryatid skirt; the five moved in formation, dodging the sculptures.

After another Raymond Scott interlude, the dancers joined the orchestra in the pit for Varèse's Poème électronique, playing novelty instruments—striking a pipe, cranking a fishing reel thingy, whacking a gong, crinkling cellophane. Three movements by James followed, and the performers migrated onto the stage, centered around Eirich, pogo-ing and orbited the stage. Eight dancers and musicians, heads dropped, chugged en masse as Eirich jumped and darted like a bird. The musicians lay down, playing their instruments (even the cellist). The dancers changed into equestrian garb for the final section, featuring Tyondai Braxton's premiere of Fly By Wire. This intriguing composition is by turns melodic, jaunty, sparkling, and triumphant. The dancers galloped, hands gripping invisible reins—again, like children wholly committed to the game at hand, in this case, involving horses. The imagery painted a vivid tableau, although it felt a bit narrow for such a textured and evocative score. Nonetheless, the two groups and their musical choices were an inspired collaborative effort.

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