with fractured light comes self and shadow
“Fracture,” the debut performance of the Cambridge-based Luminarium Dance Company on Friday, October 8, brought six distinct pieces which incorporated dance and film projections to the stage.
The styles, approach to the medium, and the influences of co-artistic directors and choreographers Merli V. Guerra and Kimberleigh A. Holman could not be more distinct. Through each choreographer’s three pieces for “Fracture,” Guerra and Holman left a definitive mark on the notions of human experience, self, and shadow. Guerra’s work, which integrates dance and video projection, is often reminiscent of lyrical experimental cinema as she explores ideas of memory and existence. Holman’s work, however, is unquestionably influenced by jazz – one piece was set to a Miles Davis composition – and is noticeably more dependent on light and shadows. Individually, their work would seem disconnected and unrelated. But in succession, the six pieces expressed a semblance of the human experience, stemming from this theme of “Fracture”.
The opening piece, “Experiment III (jazz on jazz),” began organically. The performers emerged from darkness, turned on a single light bulb, and as the musicians – a trumpeter, bassist and drummer – improvised sounds and chords, the dancers performed minimal movements. At some points, the musicians were brought onto the stage, and the improvised lighting projected the dancer’s shadows onto the walls. This piece, choreographed by Holman, will never be performed the same, and from that idea, the concept of existence presented through “Fracture” developed naturally throughout the show.
In “What Seems So Is Transition (Live)” Guerra debuted her latest dance film, What Seems So Is Transition. Guerra’s 2008 film Synchronic received three prizes at the 2009 Five College Film Festival, including the Best of Festival prize. Like Synchronic, What Seems So Is Transition evokes the best lyrical experimental filmmaking through the use of projections and performance. The film begins with a quote from Longfellow, “There is no death.” A dancer in a red dress emerges on the screen and the stage, as the on-screen performer moves through industrial spaces. As images of the dancer are projected on the screen, the live performer becomes like a ghost. Repetition of the phrase “I’m still here” and the self-reflexive use of screens, “What Seems So Is Transition” becomes a mediation on moving through time and space. In the final image, “I’m still here” is projected on the live performers red dress, a reminder of the dancer’s very existence.
Guerra’s second piece, “When thought bubbles burst” is in some aspects less experimental than her previous work. It is a humorous exploration of relationships through dance, audio, and video projection. The two performers (here they are really characters rather than nameless figures) are a couple in a constant struggle. Captions projected on a screen reveal their true thoughts as the characters swing dance and the tensions between them erupt into arguments. The theme of “fractured self” comes through the banality of this relationship. As the piece progresses, their words and thoughts becomes less important, as the dance becomes more fluid and modern.
The most effective and moving piece, “Casting Shadows, Tearing Holes” begins with a paper screen placed in the center of the stage. Scenes from Angela Colson’s When Things Were Simple were projected onto the screen. These black and white, slow-motion shots of a dog, finger painting and a playground capture perceptions about memory, childhood experiences, and the rupture that adulthood creates in ones life. My reading of this performance has undoubtedly been influenced by having seen Colson’s work in its entirety prior to this performance. On stage, five dancers, dressed in white, passed a blue dress between them and slowly, they ripped through the screen. The film disappeared into blackness, as though the memory itself was disappearing. The dancer’s crawled through holes, disappeared into the darkness, fleeting like old memories. Then the dancers ripped down the screen and emerged from the darkness, dancing in unison in a lyrical and expressive performance. Eventually the blue dress is completely discarded as the memories become less pertinent.
Holman’s second piece, “Through the night (all you have is self and shadow),” following Guerra’s three, was strikingly harsher, although no less poignant. Set during one night, two performers began separated but progress into an intimate duet. The distinct use of light creates shadows and thus an exploration of the self. Eventually the performers come together under one sheet leaving an impression of calm and intimacy. But by the sixth and final performance, “everything but blue,” the calm that resonated from “Through the night” is broken by the dancers dressed in vibrant colors for the first and only time. The color and movement begins as abruptly as it ends. Here seven dancers perform in unison in this visual exploration of Miles Davis’ composition, “Indigo.” Following the progression of the six pieces, in this final piece the self has been fully created in the most vigorous and colorful manner.
Throughout “Fracture” the Luminarium Dance Company presented six seemingly disjointed pieces and brought them together to create an exploration of the human experience unlike any other I have seen. The creative use of multiple mediums under the guidance of Guerra and Holman has left a definite impression on my personal understandings of dance and experimental cinema. This very fact makes the Luminarium Dance Company, a dance company which seeks to enlighten audiences and fully explore the capabilities of performance art, an exceptional and unique presence in the dance world.
© Joanna Arcieri, 2010