Bridgman/Packer Dance Split Themselves in Three; Elaine Summers Looks Back, Intermedia-Style

A man’s feet suddenly point 180 degrees away from the direction he’s facing. Both this man and a woman standing a short distance away wear white net hoopskirts; later his double seems to be under her clothes. Another time, her body appears where his legs should be. These are just some of the startling images in Under the Skin, the 2005 work by the husband and wife team of Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer that opened their performance in the Baryshnikov Art Center’s Howard Gilman Performance Space.

For people who, like Packer and Bridgman, have been together for more than 20 years, getting under another’s skin has more than one meaning. You finish each other’s sentences, wear each other’s socks, fall in love with the same antique-shop object you can’t really afford and probably shouldn’t buy. What keeps the sophisticated video projections that are integral to every Bridgman-Packer duet from seeming gimmicky are the human implications they explore. You may marvel at the effects achieved through technological wizardry, but you’re also amused, charmed, or disturbed by the ways in which two people’s images and dreams and memories of each other fly around like shadows in the wind.

Like Under the Skin, the pair’s dizzying new Double Expose is performed to an excellent jazz score by Ken Field, who also adds his live sax to the recorded music. The piece is, of course, rife with doppelgängers. It begins like a film noir, with the two wearing trench coats and hats (his a fedora) and prowling in narrow paths of light (design by Frank DenDanto III) beneath their own large shadows. Behind them, Peter Bobrow and Jim Monroe’s video shows busy New York streets and mysterious abandoned spaces. In the most exciting segments of the piece, Bridgman—live and on video—is searching for Packer; she’s perhaps frightened of him, angry too.

Divided dueo: Bridgman/Packer Dance in "Double Expose"
Photo by Julie Lemberger
Divided dueo: Bridgman/Packer Dance in "Double Expose"

Details

Bridgman/Packer Dance
Baryshnikov Arts Center
March 25 through 28

Elaine Summers Film and Dance Company
Danspace at Saint Markís Church
March 18 through 20

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Their wariness is accentuated by their brilliantly timed video interactions. The fact that each live performer has a life-sized film double makes us see their situation as especially unnerving, and we have to track not just two performers but four. Their images can dissolve unexpectedly or pop up in doorways that were empty a moment ago. He sees her; she disappears; he wheels around and races out of our sight. She walks into view and stands in front of a building, watching the street. Suddenly he’s beside her; she gasps and hits him; he falls; she vanishes.

From the beginning, other images of them are sighted in the distance, and these grow larger and more prominent. As part of a second couple, Packer wears a blonde wig and is sportily dressed; she’s a blonde in her third-couple appearance too, but now she’s clad in a skimpy white satin shift. Couple #2 Bridgman has a baseball cap, and his Couple #3 self is bareheaded with glasses. They have their own fleetingly glimpsed scenarios—the #2 pair seen kissing in a park, Bridgman #3 groping for something on the ground, Packer #3 pushing him away and laughing every time he importunes her.

Real and virtual entangle the way they do in our imaginations. A few aspects of the production are puzzling. I have no idea, for instance, as to the relevance of the brief sequence of highly stylized animated beasts (by Karen Aqua) that floats across the scrim at the back. However, although I’m not entirely sure why the man in the coat is searching for the woman and why she wants to avoid him, their interactions are compelling. Perhaps the other couples represent them at other stages of their lives. That certainly is suggested by a sequence at the end, when the live dancers lie on separate mattresses and images of their other selves are projected from overhead to snuggle up to them spoon-fashion. (It’s staggering to imagine the split-second timing and spatial awareness needed in the backstage and onstage activities, as well as in the triggering of the bank of projectors at the feet of the front-row spectators.)

I haven’t mentioned the dance element. As in all Bridgman and Packer’s pieces, it’s there but only occasionally featured. They tend to move together like people having fun on a ballroom floor or showing a little flair to impress each other. But their ability as dancers infuses the gestural and physical activity necessary to power all those rendezvous with their multiple selves, some of them tattooed in light with the imprint of a partner’s watchful face.


The week before Bridgman/Packer dance appeared, Elaine Summers showed a retrospective of her work in film and dance in “Back to New York City,” a series of events curated by Juliette Mapp as part of Danspace’s Platform 2010. Summers, a choreographer, filmmaker, and pioneering teacher of Kinetic Awareness, would surely acknowledge Bridgman and Packer’s performance as a feast of intermedia. She founded the Experimental Intermedia Foundation in 1964 and defines the term as something more specific that multi-media. In intermedia, the live performer mingles with projected imagery and becomes part of it.

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