When the lights fade, the dancer vibrates in an expectation of release that is only achieved through stretching, pulling time tight and close as they become aware of an end of this time, this dance. The body’s anticipation of completion saturates movement – making it fuller – and echoes though the pores, illuminating the skin. The lights fade, the body glows.
Periapsis Music and Dance’s Inaugural Concert merges dance and music, with equal weight given to both art forms. This leaves you to watch the movement or close your eyes and simply listen, as you please. I am sorry that I cannot close my eyes and tell you about what I listened to with anything approaching analytical comprehension. This, then, is a commentary on the dancing. Specifically, on the moment before the end of the dancing, so close to “FIN” it might as well be the credits. That time, that last inward breath, is when Periapsis is sublime.
And it ends.
From the last, Periapsis is urgent and wonderfully greedy with time and space. Sarah Mettin’s “Crescit eundo” has 5 dancers. They are individually huge performers. Travelling, shifting low or pricking the ground neatly, the pelvis accepts the strength of the floor. They are flesh merged with wood. Calm energy of each performer is broken by movement that invokes an idea of martial arts, with quick punctuations and blows. Damani Pompey and Weaver Rhodes, the two males in this piece, make complicated and uncodified lifts an inevitability. Air slips aside as the bodies merge. Mettin has gathered a group of dancers too smart to make the movement about themselves. From the start to finish, they are complete and generous, bringing us into their buzzing chamber of energy until the lights fade. And then the concert is over.
This is not how Periapsis middles or begins, although there are moments of great connection between dancer and musician or dancer and the dance. Leigh Schanfein’s “Tra:verse Re:verse,” performed by Schanfein and Mike Hodges and performed to “MOERAE” by Mary Kouyoumdjian, is often a study in poses, forming shapes in time with music in a way that simultaneously respects the score and underestimates its intricacies. Instead of stopping to show the audience Mike’s impressive arm balance or Leigh’s curling backbend, “Tra:verse Re:verse” could loosen itself from the grips of time and choreography and let music and the wiles of the body take over. This occurs as the piece slows into a an undulating improvisation; anticipating an end, the duet became free and wild. Leigh’s head throw back to reveal a dip underneath the chin that hollows even more deeply as she arched backwards. The throat’s skin turns white as it pulled taut. Time expands and the body grows with it, as the dance shushes to a close.
If taut skin is pleasurable in moments of stretching outwards, it is dissatisfying when it contracts inwards as if seeking bone. Insecure dancers in other works pulled the choreography in towards themselves and held onto memorized movement with tightness that that should only exist for the musicians’ string instruments. A small, two-tiered stage with a slippery floor and musicians often crowding a large part of the downstage area are undoubtedly disconcerting obstacles and responsible for the dancers apprehensions. But the choreography also sometimes felt stilted and unsure, with an adherence to the music’s downbeat and not enough exploration of the score. Alisa Fendley’s “Exhume” was a repetitive dance of theme and variation that spanned 6 musical movements and failed to to arc or spiral with the serpentine playing of the two violinists alongside them onstage.
The musicians exercised playfulness in their execution of the art form that many of the night’s dances missed. It was as though in the dancers and choreographers desire to fulfill and acknowledge the live musical accompaniment, they forgot to challenge and defy expectations. Where did Merce Cunningham of ‘chance procedures’ go? John Cage’s musical descendants were certainly playing in Periapsis’s Inaugural Concert. It was in the dancing that excitement of the unknown was missed.
In these two artists – Cunningham the choreographer and Cage the composer – Periapsis finds good company. Dance and music are often linked and in Periapsis, neither art form upstages the other. Periapsis makes the dance and music equals, but it is up to the artists to match one another. When one falters, Periapsis provides the great bonus allowing the viewer to shift focus to the visual or auditory, making no part of the evening unsatisfying. The opportunity this forum gives for choreographers to create dance, often on original musical scores, can only heighten the propensity for chance, for excitement and for the unknown.