Monday, July 11, 2011

Mary Armentrout Dance Theater

"the woman invisible to herself"
The Biscuit Factory, Oakland, CA
July 10, 2011
Photo by Ian Winters
Dance is such a fleeting entity; it only exists for a brief moment and then it is gone.  The memory, photos and video can provide some archival records but they can never truly capture or re-capture the specialness of live performance.  This impermanence is very apparent to me when seeing the same dance, in the same venue with the same cast for a second time.  Whether the piece is unchanged or if it features new/revamped choreography, the takeaway is that no two performances are ever identical.  Mary Armentrout Dance Theater's second run of "the woman invisible to herself" at The Biscuit Factory in Oakland facilitated an encounter with the familiar alongside different experiences and new observations.

My initial sense of the piece was verified and confirmed in this, my second exposure to "the woman invisible to herself".  Here, Armentrout has combined true post-modern form with strong narrative content, revealing important nuances about egalitarianism, non-conformity and the porous border between life and art.  Much of the dance resonated again with these concepts, though it was interesting to discover aspects of the work that  I had missed the first time around, which spoke equally to and of Armentrout's artistic mission. 

Two of the pre-performance installations were infused with egalitarianism and succeeded in blurring the lines between life and art.  A video segment of Armentrout revealed truths about herself while also posing real questions to the viewer, creating a participatory equality between the performer and the audience.  Another pre-performance segment found the dancers in one of the hallways working with the interplay of light, shadow, form and movement.  This captivating hypnotic sequence was a lesson in accessibility, demonstrating the ease in which an everyday gesture can morph into dance.  The suggestion here was that every movement (common or choreographed) has an inherent energy to it and it is up to each individual to find, unlock and harness this simmering electricity.

The choreography brilliantly articulated "the woman invisible to herself's" unique approach to structure and story.  In the mirror vignette, arms followed circular pathways while the head was in constant motion - a physical comment that personality and the self is a changeable idea.  The individual performances in the mobile second scene (in the realm of the selves) all contained new revelations for me.  Armentrout's solo had no stopping point; it was a stream of consciousness constructed like a Baroque fugue.  Interdependent lines of movement arose from every point of physicality and wove a truly polyphonic texture.  Frances Rosario also challenged the space between audience and performer by not only speaking directly to us, but also interacting choreographically with us.  Nol Simonse's sequence was a study of opposites: suspension & fall; stretch & flexion; exposure & hiding; expanse & closure; attachment & detachment.  Lastly, Natalie Greene embodied the notion of being off-balance, and we witnessed her desperate search for the serenity of calm.

In my previous review, I noted some criticisms of the second act.  This latter part of the piece remains the same, though this time, it had a different effect on me.  In 'the confession', Armentrout takes the disturbing notion of self-destruction and conveys it in a very honest, frank, matter-of-fact and somewhat soothing context.  Her approach of placing this silent issue in the public arena through performance took away some of its power, shame and scariness by transforming it into a human discussion instead of something that is hidden away and not talked about.

Read my review of last fall's performance:

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