|Pictured: Erin Kohout|
Photo: Rogelio Lopez
Rogelio Lopez & Dancers
Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Berkeley
March 27th, 2015
The Dance Up Close/East Bay performance series has a long history of showcasing work from this region’s best emerging choreographic talent. And their current program, Rogelio Lopez & Dancers’ Empty Spaces, is no exception. For this, his first full-length evening of contemporary dance, Lopez went all in, presenting four simultaneous physical meditations in a single program.
The sold-out audience was divided up and assigned one of four separate rooms. In each of these spaces, a distinct modern dance installation unfolded. Performers entered one studio, engaged in Lopez’s choreography for that space, then exited and moved onto another space to participate in an entirely different variation. An abundance of comings and goings made for a very organic and fluid atmosphere and a perfect portrait of the impermanence that fuels human interaction.
As you walked into Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, the mood was haunting. Not haunted, but haunting. A dark space; luminaries perched in the lobby; a background score of rushing wind. As Empty Spaces began, two women communicated a complex duet, equal parts intimate and bleak. Lit by handheld flashlights, the pas de deux was full of instances where they were forcing each other’s movements. And it was purposefully emotionless, almost stoic - clearly together in the space, but also very detached from each other. This distance was palpable even when they embraced. What a poetic environment Lopez had created – the pair was as close as could be and completely far apart at the same time. As other dancers joined the scene, contact improvisation style lifts made their way into the physical vocabulary. Even though that type of partnering calls for camaraderie, support and awareness, these sequences still felt confrontational. But mid-way through Empty Spaces, there was a turning point, during a women’s trio. The haunting nature of the piece still percolated but a tenderness also started to appear; a softer connection. This carried through to the end of the forty-five minute work, where embraces began to take on a newfound affection. And the final group sequence fed off this duality. What began as a unison set of swinging and circular motifs quickly fragmented like a turning kaleidoscope into various duets and trios.
Two through lines were present in Lopez’s Empty Spaces. Choreographically, no matter what step, what style or what dynamic, the movement always extended beyond. Beyond the fingers, beyond the toes, beyond the top of the head, beyond the solar plexus. The choreography was not about the endgame or making a specific shape, rather, it was a journey of continual energy and a pathway of growth. Narratively, Lopez revealed that the notion of something being ‘haunting’ exists on a spectrum. The term does not have a single point of definition, and while it often feels negative, it isn’t always that. Instead, it is a complicated and fluctuating idea with a wider interpretation. Haunting experiences can absolutely be foreboding, hopeless and traumatic. But others may be more of a mystical and unforgettable nature. And Empty Spaces demonstrated that on occasion, some may even contain a little ounce of grace.