Sunday, December 02, 2012

"reveries and elegies"

presented by Mary Armentrout Dance Theater 
The Milkbar, Oakland
December 1st, 2012

The queen of Bay Area post-modern dance is back with her newest performance installation, “reveries and elegies”. Mary Armentrout Dance Theater has created a multi-section, site-specific, mobile work that will live and breathe in four different spaces over the next three months; the Milkbar in Oakland being its first stop this past weekend. Performed by an all-female cast (Natalie Greene, Frances Rosario, Erin Malley and Armentrout herself), “reveries and elegies” invites the viewer on a multi-disciplined journey of process and discovery. During Judson Dance Theater’s heyday (early 1960s), experimentation, absurdity and the peripheral aspects of performance came together with dance and choreography in a vast theatrical incubator. The pioneers of post-modern dance embarked upon this exchange of imaginative ideas more than fifty years ago and Mary Armentrout Dance Theater is one of the closest representations we have of their legacy.

Photo: Ian Winters
Through “reveries and elegies’” seven different scenes, narrative themes and compositional tools brought content and structure together.  Doors were one such narrative device. Doorways and doors themselves have an obvious purpose: to allow entrances and exits from a particular space.  But in Armentrout’s work, these doors say so much more and ask so many different questions: are they leading somewhere or providing an escape; do they reveal or hide; are they keeping one out or letting one in? These propositions were most apparent in the first two vignettes, where the actual opening and closing of doors was combined with a video overlay of Armentrout repeating similar entrances and exits. The combination of the two (the actual and the projected) provided a multi-level visual, reiterating Armentrout’s narrative complexity.

Repetition was also an important theatrical and compositional tool used throughout the piece both in text and in movement. All of the seven scenes had some version of “reveries and elegies’” chosen phrasal accompaniment – ‘life is so strange’ – sometimes spoken live, sometimes recorded. Other segments used gestural repetition in the old-school dance-theater style. The fifth movement (‘reverie of dislocation #1: CONTENT’) found Armentrout continually breaking dishes by throwing them onto a cement floor, indicating fragmentation and the difference between perception and reality. There was an obvious audible shock every time she dropped a dish, but again, much more was underlying this repeated action. And, repetition in dance theater has a very dizzying effect of not only emphasizing a point but also anesthetizing the audience to that act in the same moment. 

“reveries and elegies” brought video into a much more dominant role. Movement was definitely present throughout the hour and fifty minute installation; however, the majority of it was reflected on screen, with just a few of the segments having in person codified modern dance sequences. My favorite was the second divertissement, a solo movement study entitled, ‘elegy for the things we will lose’. Here was a clear statement on the duality of searching: for a feeling; a sensory déjà vu; a hint of understanding. To that end, parallel boureés on high demi-pointe were employed, demonstrating instances of uncertainty, imbalance and precariousness. In contrast, they were juxtaposed against a recurring homebase posture of comfort and security: Armentrout lying on her side with legs extended and feet flexed in a small parallel second position.    

The fourth section (‘elegy in the dying of the light #1’) was another highlight. A quartet for all four women, they appeared and disappeared up and down a staircase, morphing in and out of view in a gestural collage. I couldn’t totally tell whether they were playing different characters or perhaps exhibiting different aspects of the same character, but the visual was so intoxicating that I don’t know if it actually mattered. Each of them engaged in a purposely overdone, melodramatic, mimetic vocabulary phrase. With the accompanying candelabras and Southern Bell styled dresses, it was like watching an old movie, one in which the heroine might have had multiple personality disorder.

“reveries and elegies’” makes three more stops: Interface Gallery (486-49th Street in Oakland), CounterPULSE (1310 Mission Street in San Francisco) and Baker Beach. Do not miss the opportunity to experience post-modern dance as it was intended. 

Further details and information can be found at:

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