Thursday, February 14, 2008

Company Ea Sola-Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

New choreography is frustrating because it usually lacks newness. The expectation of originality and innovation is rarely met. Most “new” pieces look like something that has been done before, and this is especially true with the concept of extremes in dance. Although they read well on the stage, the overuse of extremes has produced boring and predictable pieces. They become typical; good and evil; light and dark; pleasure and misery; life and death; fast and slow; connected and detached. Subsequently, dance patrons become anesthetized to the significance of opposites in performance and the magnitude of their power disappears. But, in those rare times that extremes are presented from a fresh perspective, it leads to pioneering choreography. Company Ea Sola’s Bay Area debut with Drought and Rain, Volume 2 (2005) captured what so many other new works miss; a multi-layered approach and distinctive glimpse into the world of extremes.

Control and chaos came in the first fifteen minutes of the piece and it was shockingly effective. The dance began with total calmness and occurred in almost complete silence. The eight dancers were staggered on the stage and were simply walking in their own straight lines back and forth. Some moved in slow motion. Their legs developpéd to parallel passé and out to a flexed foot, onto which they then stepped forward. Others moved at a fast pace, bourééing on their toes. Regardless of their speed, the entire section displayed a quietness that hypnotized the audience. Suddenly, the other extreme broke through and scenes of frenzied, flailing movement interrupted the tranquility. These sequences were frenetic and the pain and distress concrete. Yet, underneath these seemingly uncontrolled interludes was absolute control. In order to move that quickly and that sharply, the dancers must have ultimate command of their bodies. From control, chaos is born. Ea Sola’s choreography and staging were so mesmerizing that I was afraid to write for fear of missing a moment.

A second extreme was the multi-layered treatment of individualism and collectivism in the piece. This multi-faceted approach included instances of absolute individualism, combinations of both and lastly, purposeful collectivism. From the first perspective, Ea Sola choreographed the eight dancers almost entirely as individuals. They did not make eye contact with one another and their dancing was isolated to their own trajectory. When they were close together, there was a clear lack of acknowledgement of the other dancers; yet, they never looked like they might accidentally hit or bump into each other. It was like watching eight soloists perform rather than a group of dancers. They were a few partnering lifts toward the end of the piece, but even they felt different; there was a detachment present rather than connection. The women looked as if they were being taken by surprise in the lifts, indicated by their odd positions in the air. And, even as they were being lifted, there was again no eye contact between the lifter and the liftee. There was a very clear sense of the isolated individual.

The female dancers deserve special attention because they embodied both individualism and collectivism. Just like the men, Ea Sola had created sequences for each of them, reinforcing their individuality in movement. However, their costuming and hair made them one collective group. All four women were wearing identical black shirts and black pants whereas the four men were dressed differently. Each woman had long straight black hair which as they moved, partially or fully concealed their faces, making them almost identical to each other. This made them an anomaly; collective in appearance yet, still individual in movement.

Lastly, there were moments of complete collectivism. Similarity in movement quality is one such example. The performers may not have been dancing together nor making eye contact, but they were usually all calm or all chaotic at the same time. There was also a consistency of feeling. Sometimes, this was a clear loneliness and hopelessness that emoted from each dancer. At other times, there was a tangible collective feeling of power, mostly demonstrated in the few unison sections of the work. It was clear that even in the midst of individual helplessness, a community of others injects strength.

I had never seen Vietnam’s Company Ea Sola before, and therefore, had no expectations about the choreographer, the dancers or the piece. As viewers, this is extremely important. We approach performing arts we know with pre-conceived opinions and personal bias. Perhaps attending that which is new to us allows us to really see and not just watch.

No comments: