Thursday, March 29, 2018

Making space sing: Anna Sperber at The Chocolate Factory

Anna Sperber in Wealth From The Salt Seas
(photo: Brian Rogers)


The costumes for Anna Sperber's Wealth From The Salt Seas--a duet with vocalist/musician Gelsey Bell--display at least two variations on a theme of chocolate brown. (Sperber's pants, hard to make out in the lighting, might be of a hue between dull dark brown and charcoal.)  More than a possible sly reference to the work's venue, The Chocolate Factory Theater, the color has immediate effect--low-key and calming, earthy without being overly sensuous or overbearing, not stark like black. This, as it turns out, is a deep-brown dance.

It's appropriate for the choreographer who might easily go unnoticed when making her quiet, unremarkable first entrance with dark-brown hair pulled back from a scrubbed, serene face. She's just suddenly there, settled in place for a moment.

Sperber eventually drifts from one corner to another, positioning herself at one or another end of a row of viewers, slowly tracing hands over her face and neck and around her waist and hips. Her awareness is internal; you can feel that as easily as you feel the weight and slight friction of hands on skin and fabric.

Sperber's enigmatic, repetitive actions bring attention to the margins of the space and gather stillness and silence there like a gift. You might notice the difference this makes and think: Have I ever looked at performance space--or a performance--in quite this way?

Bell's entrance introduces sound--a voice that momentarily heightens in volume and shrillness. The sound score for the hour-long dance is produced by recorded and live voicings; the impact of feet on the floor; the strange effect of crouching and howling into the corner between two walls; the haunting bells played by the women as they bend their faces to them; and the reverberation of metallic sheets rattled and filling the air between Sperber and Bell as if, like whales, they signaled each other across an expanse of sea.

Curious props appear--a long, thick cable that Sperber manipulates; the odd-looking bells cast in blackish metal; a tarp of golden plastic; small, wooden scaffolds at either diagonal end of the space where the women climb and store their equipment. Curious, too, those moments when you swear you just saw one or the other dancer but she's suddenly out of sight, then she reappears as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.

Wealth From The Salt Seas continues through Saturday, March 31 with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

The Chocolate Factory Theater
5-49 49th Avenue, Long Island City
(map/directions)

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