B I R D S E Y E Creates a Familiar World in a New Space

Birdseye 2015Leslie Scott founded her company BodyArt in New York in 2005, and is now pursuing her graduate degree in dance at California Institute of the Arts. This evening’s work was conceptually outside the box, and physically inside the box as it was an installation piece set in a courtyard on the Cal Arts campus. Collaborating with a team of visual, sonic, and spatial specialists, this piece was a collage of provocative imagery and atmosphere.

The structure itself was created by Elizabeth Smith and can be described as a cube with walls of sheer material, just opaque enough to act as a screen for the projections, and yet transparent enough for the audience watching from outside the cube to see the dancers and participants within. The question arose- what was the theme for this room? A dinner party! An oversized picnic table and benches formed a banquet hall, complete with yellow napkins, plates and place cards for the participating audience members. I was seated on the end near an overhead projector. The audience invited us into the space giving each of us a friendly hug upon entering before offering us red or white wine and encouraging us to mingle with the fellow dinner party goers.

The movement began with a soloist Darby who lost her “weave.” It was a peculiar way to initiate the movement phrase, and I discovered it was just the beginning of a long line of non-sequitur transitions. The dancers began their task-oriented movement, clearing plates, gesturing on and over the table, and then inviting the audience members to be seated at our places.

The rest of the evening included a mix of events, from singing happy birthday to a fellow audience member, slow dancing, listening to a monologue in Korean, watching birds projected on the walls, reading etiquette rules from our napkins and watching the dancers party dance (including the kid and play). I could describe each event in order, but it wouldn’t necessarily add clarity to the work as a whole. This experiential performance art piece was both visually engaging and simultaneously confounding. Provocative metaphors came and went, leaving more questions than answers for me as an audience member. For instance, take the costume designer’s (Alexandra Friedman) use of yellow for the dancers’ undergarments. The theme of yellow was one I noticed almost immediately, yellow napkins, yellow undergarments (the exterior of the costumes was grey), and yellow scarves all fit together visually but left me wondering, is the yellow reflective of these young dancers’ youth, vibrant energy, or perhaps their perpetually sunny dispositions?

IMG_7438_2The sound design by Paul Rosero was one of the components that seemed the most cohesive and effective in creating a casual atmosphere of a party. A mix of sampled sounds and dance beats blended in what seemed like a live interplay with the movement. I first noticed the design when I heard sounds as if there were a microphone under the large table. This triggered my awareness toward the atmospheric blend and deepened my appreciation for the shifting sonic textures. Similarly, lighting designer Alexander Feer, grappled masterfully with the demands of lighting a created space set outside, in combination with projections on three walls. The lighting design, while bright for those seated next the side instruments, was effective and aesthetically unobtrusive, creating moods with color while avoiding choices that would interfere with the projected components.

The projected visuals designed by Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh were less effectively integrated for me. I experienced the 25-minute performance twice, once on the inside as a participant and once watching from the balcony overhead. Seeing the projection from afar allowed me to take in both the action of the dancers and visuals simultaneously, which was hard to do while being inside the structure. Images of flying birds, photographs of sidewalks, shadows of leaves did not seem to exist in the same world for me. The realism of the visuals occasionally it took me out of the action as I pondered the meaning of a particular photograph in relationship to the dancing bodies before me. The image that worked best for me was the text projected stating wishes of the dancers. These projected phrases mirrored the theme of birthdays and birthday wishes and brought me deeper into the intimacy of the performance.

Similar to my last MFA concert experience at Cal Arts, this piece has much to discuss about the design elements, and I find myself talking about everything but the actual dancing. The movement occurred for the most part on top of the large table. This limited dance space created an interesting choreographic challenge as the dancers moved back and forth with confidence while perched three feet off the ground. Despite the fact that 90% of the dancing happened on the table, the choreography was still rich and full-bodied. The free flow of the dancers both in their solos and in their contact duets was a treat to watch. The dancers also moved naturally and confidently while telling their stories. There was a charm to the dancers, and a friendly and a happy-go-lucky feeling that was contagious for the audience. The dancers were asked to be more than just moving bodies- they were hostesses, busboys and friends. I appreciated how the dancers navigated between the phrase work and the “non-dance” performance aspects with ease. The five young women had a command of the space that was comfortable and natural.

Amidst the myriad component of overhead projections, text, scarves, sounds of babies crying, and stories in a language I couldn’t understand, this work had an undeniably fresh and exciting feeling. Nothing was predictable, and I was a bit sad when it was over so soon. Despite my questions, and perhaps because of them, I wanted to know more, and, above all, I felt like I was at a party, which was — fun!

Performers: Kyreeana Alexander, Cynthia Anderson, Hee Eun Jeong, Darby Kelley. Mahina Moon.

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