Simpson/Stulberg Collaborations presents
Still Life Dances
April 1st, 2016
Sub-divided into two sections (one large, one small), a wall structure sat mid-stage. Choreographers Lauren Simpson and Jenny Stulberg entered the space and began a collection of fluttering movements and succinct, staccato gestures. Initially they were in unison and then subsequently broke off into unique and different phrases.
With these first images, Still Life Dances was underway, an evening-length program by Simpson/Stulberg Collaborations, featuring three pieces from their Still Life series – Still Life No. 1, hold (STILL) and the newest chapter, Still Life No. 4. All are inspired by work from the de Young museum yet they do not seek to be literal interpretations of the paintings. Instead, Still Life Dances embodies their spirit, examining formal elements in composition and drawing a number of parallels between the two fields.
As Still Life No. 1 continued, its structure toggled between moments of togetherness and individuality along with some brief instances of repose. The choreography evolved from the microscopic finger twitches, nods and flexing feet to vast dives, rolls, extensions and then back again. As Simpson and Stulberg embraced in a resting pose, an image of the two in the same attitude was simultaneously projected on the larger of the two walls. They exited the stage and the film hold (STILL) started rolling. Set in an industrial-looking site against a spectacular natural background, movement from Still Life No. 1 played out in hold (STILL). Certainly a brilliant connective fiber in the program, it was the considerations of subjectiveness and viewership that awed with these first two works. Contemplating this movement in the same space, yet in two distinct formats and with a different lens of familiarity made for a deviceful opening to Still Life Dances.
Up next was the evening’s premiere work and the final piece on the program - Still Life No. 4, a thought-provoking quartet. One dancer slid on her back toward the wall. As she met the structure she placed her palm against it, touched her head and swiveled her feet. Two other dancers hovered at the top of each wall, slung over the edge, while a fourth sat against the very back of the stage, with her palm similarly pressed flat. The choreography was intriguing and the dancers performed beautifully. But it was its treatment of perspective that stood out most in Still Life No. 4, particularly the shifting and changing of perspective. Simpson and Stulberg’s movement actually altered the stationary walls. Unexpected angles and foci emerged throughout the dance. Unison footwork patterns performed against the wall made it seem like a floor. As the dancers hung from the structure, dangling their legs like a pendulum, the wall seemed freestanding. Sometimes the wall felt like a ceiling (in the opening slide sequence, for example), sometimes, depending on how the dancers sat at the seam between the wall and the stage, it felt like part of a box. Occasionally the movement made it seem short, at other times, tall. With compositional depth and complexity, Still Life No. 4 invited its audience to view an entity in a variety of contexts, contexts that were created by choreography.
Yet there was even more to uncover in Still Life No. 4. Still life paintings are often of items that we know, things that are commonplace. While certainly stylized and placed in a theatrical container, much of the movement here was also recognizable and relatable. The hand actions; the sitting positions; the pedestrianism. It was accessible vocabulary, like those in still life paintings. At the same time, the choreography was very realistic and functional. The recurring slide motif moved the dancers across the space. It didn’t appear to be representing a feeling or conveying some part of a story; it was getting them from one spot to another. And yet there was a freedom that if some emotional response was evoked by a particular movement, it was welcome. Still Life No. 4 impressed on many fronts, though this amazing (and rare) combination of egalitarianism, realism and openness may have been its crowning glory.