Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Brian Brooks Moving Company at ADF

Brian Brooks Moving Company in Descent.  Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Brian Brooks Moving Company builds and deconstructs, falls and soars at the American Dance Festival

July 17, 2012

Brian Brooks is a problem-solver.  A movement-investigator.  An explorer willing to take his time to probe all the possibilities, willing to let an idea evolve and develop.  Even when the central question seems clear within the dance, the solutions are so inventive that they—mostly—remain compelling, even riveting.  His company presented four works in the Reynolds Industries Theater: two longer works, including the new Big City (2012), and Descent (2011), as well as the propulsive, barely controlled freak-out solo I’m Going to Explode (2007) performed by Brooks himself, and an ode to endurance in the duet excerpted from Motor (2010) in which two men in black briefs spend nearly 10 minutes hopping—in unison—through stuttering back and forth pathways that gradually get more complex.

“What does it take to suspend a fall?”  This seems to be the question posed in Descent (2011), a non-stop, highly visual dance that explores weight, momentum, impulse, and flight in its multiple sections.  Unusual and striking lighting is prominent, further delineating the sections.  Visible beams of light are directed across the chests and heads of the dancers as they trudge a slow procession, each carrying another dancer on their backs, stiff-legged and rigid.  Occasionally, the bearers put down their charges to change sides, and the mannequin-like figures become human again, their weight and mobility remembered.  In another section, one man slows another’s fall, redirecting, catching, tipping, and sometimes cushioning the falling body.  Somehow, all of these actions seem to be happening at once, and the duet is a jumble of joints, as the active partner maneuvers swiftly around his leaning partner (sometimes rigid, sometimes limp), using knees, shoulders, back, feet, head, and hands to fulfill the task. 

Brian Brooks Moving Company in Descent.  Photo by Christopher Duggan.

The lighting shifts so that the top half of the space above the stage is lit, while the bottom is darkened.  The dancers are hard to see in that dim light, but their action is not the focus.  They traverse the stage, using what appear to be aluminum panels to fan the air, keeping translucent scarves afloat in the light above their heads.  Hovering on the updrafts, the fabric writhes and swoops, suspending and then floating downward, only to ride the next air current upward.  The effect is lovely and captivating, as the scarves undulate like jellyfish, transform themselves like gossamer clouds.  Such lightness and air—but what effort from below to keep them afloat!

The focus shifts back to the physicality of the body in the last section, a running-and-jumping section, in which the dancers catch each other in midair, suspending the leap.  This idea develops and builds, until the dancers seem to finally acquiesce to the demands of gravity, layering themselves one on top of another, in a tall pile of inert bodies. 

Big City opens on an angular structure, dozens (hundreds?) of pipes creating something of a metallic bamboo grove, knobby and jointed.  The dancers, in colorful suits and dresses, enter the stage, fitting themselves through the haphazard pattern of empty spaces created by the structure.  A man in a red suit steps onto a man lying face-down on the ground.  Like log-rolling in slow motion, the man on top struggles to keep his balance as the man on the ground shifts his body, rolling from stomach to back and over again.  It is a focused negotiation of weight and support, the first of several other explorations of this idea. 

The movement vocabulary of this first part of the dance centers on the elbows and forearms, as they circle and hug the space close to the dancers’ bodies.  At times, it appears the elbows are trying to crawl away, and the dancer must snatch them back; other times, the dancers seem to be juggling themselves in a convoluted sequence—dip and curve, wrap and unfurl.  Although interesting and unusual at first, it continues for too long without additional development; the momentum of the dance also stagnates as the dancers erect more sets of the metal structures.

The dancers offer themselves to each other as supports: A small woman gingerly steps onto her partner’s outstretched hands, and eventually his chest and feet, as he constantly repositions himself to keep her from touching the floor; in three pairs, one dancer stands tall upon the other’s back, balancing while the supporting partner pushes up and curls back to sit on his or her heels, lowering back down to the floor. 

There is an intriguing relationship between the dancers and their environment—both a juxtaposition between the shiny metal of the structure and the malleable softness of the dancers’ bodies, and a consonance between their shared fragility and sturdiness.  The many-legged structure is made up of hard parts, but, with its spidery hinges, is not meant to bear weight—the potential for collapse is great.  The bodies, on the other hand— simple machines made up of hinges and levers—also have the potential to give way, to collapse (and they sometimes do, here), but again and again, they prove resilient, strong, reliable structures of support.  Brooks’ slow, steady exploration of this idea mostly works in Big City, giving a sense of the gradual evolution of human relationships and the construction of our shared space.

The ADF season continues with two more concerts this week: Shen Wei Dance Arts at the NC Museum of Art (July 18-19), and Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Durham Performing Arts Center (July 20-21).

Anne Morris

No comments:

Post a Comment