Swimming Alone Together


In this digital age, video projections allied with live performance can astonish you with their complexity and their magic. Still, two-dimensional moving images sharing the stage with live humans usually adhere to pretty basic rules. They create landscapes, zero in on details, provide emotional subtexts, and offer commentary. If they’re not enhancing the emotional climate, they may be creating formal analogies.

I’ve pondered the possible ways in which visual artist Burt Barr’s installation and Liz Gerring’s dance, when you lose something you can’t replace, might connect, and I’m coming up perplexed. Two screens, subtly different in shape and size, hang out over the space at the level of the balcony in St. Mark’s church, one on each side, angled inward. The screens are wider than they are high, and videos of dancer Jodi Melnick, lying down, almost fill each. It looks as if Melnick was filmed through a glass bottomed tank of water—maybe a very shallow one, because sometimes her head disappears. As she rolls and twists, it’s an event when part of a leg or buttock presses against the glass.

It may be that Gerring and Barr’s collaboration explores the intriguig border between the everyday and the unusual. We know underwater shots from Olympic swim meets, but watch a clothed woman lazing (or is she?) underwater for about 40 minutes, and you enter a realm of mystery. The only aspect of Gerring’s choreography that could be called everyday is the calm diligence with which five dancers come and go across the space. Clad in gleaming gray-blue pants and tops by Deanna Berg, they have the sleek, leggy precision of Merce Cunningham’s company members (coincidentally, one of Gerring’s people, Mandy Kirschner, danced with Cunningham for four years). Even though their movements may quicken become turbulent, the performers don’t express any feelings about them. At one point, Rosalynde LeBlanc’s gestures may connote emotional states, but she distances herself from their potential impact. Robbie Cook lies on top of Emma Stein for a few seconds, but it would be unwise to think about intimacy.

Douglas Henderson’s strong score, played by cellist Jane Scarpantoni and drummer Marcus Farrar, winds itself up to peaks of speed, volume, or density. Carol Mullins’s light softens or becomes piercing. Gerring’s choreography, too, changes. But the changes don’t seem to have any lasting consequences. Take the beginning. Kirschner enters with large, precise, linear movements. Miguel Anaya joins her in the same patterns. Cook enters, grabs Kirschner, tips her over, and carries her away. Anaya keeps dancing and LeBlanc joins him, their changes of directions as clear-cut as the movements.

I watch these lovely, skillful people the way I might watch an ant village, intent, mystified. I watch them perform drastic-looking rollings and lashings on the floor, while Henderson’s music heats up. I watch two people drag a third person, drop her, and walk away. I watch them run in circles and crawl on their bellies, Spurts of athleticism may be followed by contemplation or by upward stares. The rhythmics shifts are interesting; so is much of the movement—extremely so.

But then there’s Melnick, whom I gaze at quite a lot as she floats above the others, tumbling in her own watery world. I occasionally catch—or think I do—a similarity between her slowly evolving shapes and some of the more fluid gestures that the dancers slide through. Except when they interact, the performers almost never acknowledge one another, their expressions glazed, as if they too were in separate tanks. Have they lost something they can’t replace? If so, what is it?

Together Barr’s design and Gerring’s choreography create a tension between tranquility and restlessness. I like looking at both, but I feel somehow cut off from them, as if I’m watching everything through a pane of glass.

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