Artists constantly play with our perceptions of the world, the “known” – revisiting them, proposing altered possibilities, and presenting us with new ways to engage with our surroundings. Last weekend, during the RAWdance’s CONCEPT series 15, choreographer Jo Kreiter transformed a bicycle into both a hanging sculpture and a dance partner in TORQUE/Dance on a Bike on a Rope. Performer Sandia Langlois successively rolled, hung, pushed, climbed, and was swept away by the two-wheeler in a way that makes it now impossible for me to look at the common bicycle as a simple tool for navigation. Not unlike the cycle sculptures that artist Max Chen created for choreographer KT Nelson’s Transit, Kreiter and Langlois converted the bike into an astute and poetic partner.
In the same program, dancer and choreographer Christian Burns challenged the common perception of repetition as an action deprived of the new. Improvisation #72 started as Burns sat on the bleachers’ steps, stood up, looked left before entering the space with the calm receptivity of a seasoned performer. Throughout the piece, Burns repeated the sequence, coming back to his point of departure, at times altering the trajectory and outcome of his journey.
The score superimposed Johann Sebastian Bach’s music with the voice of Burns sharing notes that he had taken during his research. Some read: “Repetition is about new outcomes… To repeat is to approach another new future in that moment.” Burns’ investigation quietly called to mind Danish philosopher Søren Kierkergaard’s work Repetition in which the protagonist questions whether repetition is even a possibility. If one could recognize movements that the dancer had performed earlier, Burns’ ability to dig into the present moment through his physicality brought the viewer to consider each gesture as entirely fresh, an open door to a new landscape.
At ODC Theater the same weekend, Philadelphia-based choreographer Nichole Canuso helped me hear Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturnes in a new way. As she sat still in her Midway Avenue, she interrupted a two-minute silence to narrate the specific circumstances in which Chopin created the Nocturne that was playing in the background. She recounted that Chopin had composed the score while on the Spanish island of Mallorca, on a day of torrential rain. When Canuso resumed her silence, I found myself reading the melancholy and accents of Mediterranean weather that the composer incorporated in the music. At other times, she emphasized its gusto by letting her monologue be sharply interrupted by a rush of vivacious notes that jolted her to another side of the stage. Throughout the piece, Canuso allowed the viewer to both hear and see new facets of Chopin’s versatile music.
This experience of renewed perceptions reminded me of New York-based choreographer Doug Elkins, who will be performing at the Walking Distance Dance Festival-SF at ODC (May 30-31, 2014). Elkins is known for reinterpreting classics and offering new ways of experiencing them. His Fraulein Maria (2006) shed new light on the 1959 musical The Sound of Music. With Mo(or)town/Redux (2012), Elkins revisited José Limon’s The Moor’s Pavane (1949), and provided his own take on William Shakespeare’s Othello. In the piece, the dancers weaved modern dance steps with hip hop grooves set to the tunes of Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Otis Redding and Amy Winehouse.
Elkins started his career as a B-Boy, touring the world with break dance groups New York Dance Express and Magnificent Force. He is recognized for crafting witty and humorous dances that mingle many genres of dance, providing what he calls a “collision of languages.” Dance critic Joan Acocella wrote that he will frequently “come out in front of the audience in his socks and do deadpan comedy.” It is therefore not a surprise that Hapless Bizarre, his most recent work and the one he will present at the Walking Distance Dance Festival-SF, explores the boundaries between physical comedy and dance. Referencing early performers like Chaplin, Tati, Keaton, and The Marx Brothers, Elkins investigates the colossal expressivity of the body. In anticipation of his performance, I am curious to discover in what direction the choreographer will instigate yet another shift in the way we experience dance.