Friday, February 21, 2014

Dancing, dancing machines: "Twinned" at the Metropolitan Museum

As specific sites for site-specific dances go, you can't get much classier than the Metropolitan Museum of Art after dark--site-specifically, The Charles Engelhard Court with its surround of sparkling, glassed-in balconies. Last evening, in this dramatic setting, contemporary music ensemble Alarm Will Sound (directed by Alan Pierson) and Heginbotham Dance (directed by John Heginbotham) premiered Twinned, their collaboration to compositions by Edgard Varèse, Aphex Twin and Tyondai Braxton with charming transitions between sections by Raymond Scott.

Each set of performers engaged--a little--in the other's art form. At times, musicians could be found standing solemnly or lying supine beside or beneath their instruments or scampering about as if their instruments, or music itself, were forms of contraband or weaponry; a dancer might stand behind a music stand, waiting for his moment to strike a gong or noisily crumple sheets of clear, glinting plastic. This whimsical overlapping of roles, at best, suited the playfulness of the electronic scores; at its less than best, it seemed tame and a bit silly. But it did help de-stuffy-fy an event that--at $60 a ticket, certainly--could have come off as stuffy but did not.

The Varèse Intégrales opened on a rising woodwind note; a percussive flourish of drums, bells, chains, tambourine, clackers; a shock of brass, with musicians alerting us to their presence all around the court. The space was seized, the capture announced to all.

Past the Varèse, light projections of chains of 1s and 0s splashed the container of the court. Musicians beat a temporary retreat to their separate half of the performance space, and two dancers, dressed in black-and-white Op Art leotards, stepped forward. Peppy movements carried the jagged, electric look of their costumes's prints. They trotted, flapped and twisted their limbs, and rigidly twerked like mechanical targets or clockwork figures, joined by two other dancers and finally by the wonderful John Eirich, luminous and airy in a long, cream-colored skirt. Under dramatic lighting by Nicole Pearce, the dancing looked well-placed among the court's sculpture and architecture.

In Twinned's conclusion, the new Fly By Wire, set to a Tyondai Braxton first presented by Alarm Will Sound in 2012, the dreamy/ borderline nightmarish undertone of previous sections broke into a clever, full-on horse race with dancers jockeying for position. Dancers certainly can make music, if they choose. But the skill of the Heginbotham dancers made me glad that, most of the time, they stuck to their own side of the fence.

Dancing by Winston Dynamite Brown, John Eirich, Lindsey Jones, Courtney Lopes, Weaver Rhodes, Sarah Stanley and Andrea Weber

Alarm Will Sound: Erin Lesser (flutes), Alexandra Sopp (piccolo), Christa Robinson (oboe, English horn), Campbell MacDonald (clarinet, saxophone), Elisabeth Stimpert (clarinet, bass clarinet), Michael Harley (bassoon, contrabassoon, voice), Matt Marks (horn), Jason Price (trumpet), Mike Gurfield (trumpet), Michael Clayville (trombone), Timothy Albright (bass trombone), Joe Barati (bass trombone), John Orfe (piano, keyboard), Chris Thompson (percussion), Luke Rinderknecht (percussion), Yuri Yamashita (percussion, keyboard), Mellissa Hughes (voice), Courtney Orlando (violin, voice), Caleb Burhans (violin, electric guitar), Nadia Sirota (viola), Brian Snow (cello), Miles Brown (bass)

Nigel Maister (staging direction for Intégrales)
Maile Okamura (costumes)

Alarm Will Sound in a performance of Cliffs by Aphex Twin
Bowling Green State University, March 28, 2012 
arranged by Caleb Burhans
staging by Nigel Maister

For more information on special events at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, click here.

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