Thursday, August 31, 2023

Hanging Dance on Frames of Fiction and Technology

Maya Lee-Parritz and Jodi Melnick in Água Viva.
Photo: And Or Forever (Carr Chadwick & Kate Hawkins)

Água Viva
, by Jodi Melnick and Maya Lee-Parritz
Hudson Hall, Aug 27, 2023

“You don’t understand music: you hear it.
So hear me with your whole body.” 
     Água Viva, by Clarice Lispector

Maybe it was best to overlook, on purpose or coincidentally, that the sublimated foundation for Jodi Melnick and Maya Lee-Parritz’s Água Viva is the same-titled book by Clarice Lispector. There’s no apparent plot in the dance, and none to be obviously deduced from the movements—live and on film—that fill an hour. Better to absorb their deceptively simple phrases and gestures; distances, proximities, and duets; and synchrony (or lack thereof) with the sound score, by Jon Kinzel.

Melnick’s movement continues to be entrancing, filled with delicacy, fluidity, and rationale. Her hands make idiosyncratic shapes, contrary to the rote ones ingrained in many dancers from years of ballet training—tensile flexions or oddly skewed fingers. For the middle section, she dons clunky, heeled oxfords, clomping around on stage. Lee-Parritz dances with a boldness and accentuation that simmers below a very coordinated surface. She looks directly at us with the hint of a knowing smile. Her thigh-length braid whips around her body; Melnick tugs on it at one point, like a rein. While they mostly move independently, in sections they sync up, and finally interact, supporting and leaning on one another.

Maya Lee-Parritz. 
Photo: And Or Forever
(Carr Chadwick & Kate Hawkins)

The piece was performed mostly on Hudson Hall’s proscenium stage, with
 the audience seated in traditional rows. But the dancers began by walking up the aisles, placing one hand on the stage apron as if it were a ballet barre, and doing a cursory dance before mounting the stage. A hypnotic video by And Or Forever (Carr Chadwich and Kate Hawkins) featured the dancers mostly individually, upside-down, in front of a saturated dark background, lit by flaring lights that twinkled off their bodies. It’s a dream-like interlude, only slightly asynchronous from the overall tone of Água Viva.

Hudson Hall presented the event in association with The Hudson Eye, an annual festival that blankets a variety of events taking place in Hudson, NY.

Photo: Christopher Duggan

Compagnie Käfig, Pixel
Jacob's Pillow, August 25, 2023

Pixel, by Compagnie 
Käfig of Lyon, France, choreographed by Mourad Merzouki, is an evolutionary step forward for hip-hop/street dance created for traditional proscenium theaters. When hip-hop hit the dance scene decades ago, the sheer physicality, daring, and newness of the form bowled over audiences. But it’s not easy to tailor the explosive, rebellious, battle-ready form into a digestible evening of dance for seated, ticket-buying audiences in hallowed venues. The style born on sidewalks, subway platforms, and clubs is by its nature best seen in short bursts.

In Pixel, digital effects by Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne elevate the 70-minute production to another level. Projected dots and geometric shapes blanket, mass, and blizzard, at times seemingly activated by the performers’ actions. In one scene, a cave-like portal appears. In another, two dancers freeze amid a starry field of snow and as they pivot slowly, the entire graphic plane also pivots, Matrix-style. Robotic candles zoom about the stage, at moments leading on a digital scrim like a drum major. The lighting, designed by Yoann Tivoli with Nicolas Faucheux, on the whole is gorgeous and warm, if slightly dark in segments. Armand Amar is credited for the music, which flows nearly continuously in pleasant waves and rhythmic patterns. A sole woman contortionist (Nina Van der Pyl) performs alongside 10 men; unfortunately her impressive if unnatural flexions become wearying after a few minutes.

Photo: Christopher Duggan

The final sections of Pixel reveal a fundamental weakness of hip-hop performances in the traditional theater setting—the essential vocabulary is fairly restricted, both in breadth and expressiveness. The use of dollies to glide across the stage feels like a forced attempt at stretching out the show, as did yet another segment featuring Van der Pyl folded in half, backward, and a man on rollerblades. But the dancers’ interactions with the digital designs impressed, adding a solid chapter to the art form's story—now celebrating 50 years.

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