The first round of REDCAT’s New Original Works Festival (Now) was a performance for the senses.
“This is an eye, this is an ear, this is a cheek, this is a mouth,” declared dancer and choreographer Maria Gillespie, as she took on a pose for every attendant part in “Bloom,” last Saturday.
Shrouded by a single diaphanous panel of curtain, Gillespie’s direct gestures are an arresting introduction to beginning anatomy, but the full arc of “Bloom,” choreographed by Gillespie with her dance partner Nguyễn Nguyên, proves more perplexing to the eyes and ears. Through fragments of spoken word, dance, live video feeds and projections by Fabio Altenbach, Nguyên and Gillespie allude to their paralleling personal histories and family connections to the Vietnam War. (Nguyên’s family fled from Vietnam; Gillespie’s father is sent there as a soldier.) Although it pulls at heartstrings, the patchwork narrative is more meandering than moving.
Yet “Bloom” excels when it lets movement overtake messaging. Gillespie is an engrossing mover, whose incredible kinetic intelligence reveals itself in every lunge, lean, headstand and backward roll over. For “Bloom’s” strength is not what it can see, but what it can feel. When Gillespie rolls herself into a patch of faux grass carpet, like a child cocooning herself in a sleeping bag, it is a luscious move, rife with associations — the tickle of turf on a carefree afternoon, the finality of dirt when bones are laid to rest.
If “Bloom” appeals to touch, then Zac Pennington, Jherek Bischoff and Steve Reker’s “Crying” is intended for the ear. Making his REDCAT debut, Pennington croons strange love ballads into a long microphone, wrangling its gangly cord with the nonchalance of a strung out pop star. Channeling some celebrity alter ego — perhaps David Bowie, even some Lana Del Rey — Pennington exerts a commandingly cool stage presence, and never allows his “Born-to-Die-esque” lyrics, (or the microphone’s cords), to trip him up.
From “Crying” to breathing, we move to Sheetal Gandhi, Ulka Mohanty and Mark Guitierrez’s “In/EXPIRATION.” Mixing musings on the universe’s origins with caricatures of overbearing Indian parents and Kathak, (classical Indian dance), Gandhi is a captivating storyteller. Not a line of speech, nor a punctuating stomp is ever out of place. Gandhi and Mohanty’s twin-like precision is as wondrous as the questions Gandhi poses at the dance’s onset. They whirl and spin in perfection unison, like effortlessly synced electrons circling within a microcosmic atom.
But “In/EXPIRATION” proves even more inspiring when less articulate. Alternating between stinging sighs and sucking gasps, Gandhi and Mohanty, as if under a telepathic spell seem to catch each other’s breath, creating an intricate harmony of respiratory rhythms. The only words that make it out of their virtuosic windpipes are “I can’t breathe,” echoing the final words of Eric Garner. The breathless statement leaves its mark on the night, haunting every eye, pore, ear and mouth.
The second and third weekend of NOW performances at REDCAT will certainly continue to challenge the senses.
The New Original Works Festival runs July 30-August 15.
Week 2, Aug 6–8
Stina Ahlberg: Sammanfläta (intertwine); Mint Park and Hee-Eun Jeong: BIT; Robert Cucuzza: Circle Jerk.
Week 3, Aug 13–15
Cassandra: Stellar Tears; Takao Kawaguchi, Jonathan Hall and Deanna Erdmann: Touch of the Other; Kevin Williamson: Trophy.
Tickets and information at redcat.org.
Contact Contributor Christina Campodonico here.