Friday, October 24, 2014

Lost in space: Julian Barnett presents "Bluemarble"

Julian Barnett and Jocelyn Tobias in Bluemarble
(photos by Ian Douglas)

If I recall, it was Olatunji, famed Nigerian drummer, who once advised clueless people to imagine the map of Africa stripped of the artifice of national borders, a continent not carved up and served up to outsiders. In their own way, Julian Barnett and Jocelyn Tobias might be attempting something faintly similar--on a planetary level--with their short duet, Bluemarble.

Barnett's promotional material tells us:
Bluemarble reflects on a phenomenon referred to as the “overview effect,” which is said to be experienced when astronauts travel into space and see firsthand the reality of the whole Earth from afar. Bluemarble imagines a voyage where Barnett and co-performer Jocelyn Tobias tap into a field of persistence that relentlessly circulates physical and vocal information. Elevated glimpses are created that challenge perceptions of community and autonomy in both intimate and global ways.
Bluemarble, which received its US premiere at Danspace Project last evening, is not a complex production with a host of genres and media coming at you from every direction. It's basically two dancers. They do have simple props, a little later in the story. And they do have some sound that starts almost below awareness and builds to a grating, grinding aggression. That's about it.

I can't avoid the impression of a couple of artsy grade school teachers using their own bodies, and maybe a few toys from the back of the closet, to demonstrate the Creation of the World and the violent play of its elemental forces--air, fire, water, earth.

Along with soundman, Tian Rotteveel, the dancers brew a sense of chaos out of two bodies thrusting, twitching, thrashing, jutting, and retracting, flinging heads and limbs into St. Mark's looming and somewhat daunting space. Tobias looks stretchier than the more compact, jerky Barnett. Tobias can't escape looking like the lovely woman she is, a beautiful dancer slumming a little with these offbeat, quirky moves. On Barnett, the movements are more crunchy and have a childlike naïveté. He also looks like a guy trying to fight its way out of something--a bag, a dilemma, something. It's a little hard to see beyond all that, and I admit I kept hoping to discern a shape, a frame, a greater context.

Rotteveel's music intensifies then recedes into something gentler as the dancers begin a slow, affectless drift. Then, without warning, they freeze, one foot cocked behind each of them. Looking down, the dancers hunch forward. Barnett disturbs the silence, vomiting vocal noises; Tobias gazes at him with an expression of mild concern before he storms away towards a carton in a far corner. He yanks a child's beach ball out of the box, punching the ball out into the space. And he does this again and again until, the floor is littered with about twenty of these balls, and the dancers, with no clear interest or energy, push at a few of them with their feet.

Next, they tread a broad circle, round and round and round at a fairly fast clip, locking eye contact, continuously making firm shapes and gestures with their arms and hands. They speak, too, in little musical and metallic blips of one or two words that grow into a recitation of the countries of Latin America, the South Pacific, and all around the globe. An-goh-lah! An-goh-lah!  Tobias, who shares choreography credit with Barnett, is also a singer, and I think this section must bear her stamp.

The form looks, and the energy feels, like an abstraction of human communication--that relentless circulation of physical and verbal information alluded to in Barnett's publicity. It seemed deadly serious to me, though it drew a few titters from the opening night audience, a likely signal of uncertainty of tone and intent.

Bluemarble continues through Saturday with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue), Manhattan

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