The union of compelling dance and stunning visual imagery is part of what makes zoe|uniper stand out from the crowd in the ‘post post modern dance’ world. A Crack in Everything, zoe|junier’s third full length performance piece, premiered at On the Boards last night to a packed house. When the stage went dark after 65 minutes, which seemed to fly by, the mood was first breathless then turned quickly turned into a standing ovation. Many left the theater feeling as if they just had experienced something new and visceral.
What struck me most about this piece was the complex use of video and staging to create a multi-leveled universe, a place where time presents itself differently from one layer to another and where dancers move with and around their virtual alter egos. As the piece begins we see the dancers donned in exquisite mesh and gold costumes behind a vinyl scrim, sheathed in voile, a see-through silky cloth. This murky quality, created by the voile, combined with the virtual image of the dancers projected onto the vinyl, matching the actual dancers in their movements, begins to challenge us in our vision of reality and time. Meanwhile, a lone dancer enters the stage connected by a single red thread to something unknown off stage. Her progression across the stage is slow, graceful and tense as if the string is a moment in time being painfully drawn out of her body as she moves. When the vinyl scrim finally rises we are finally able to have a clear vision of the universe being presented. Or so we think.
Throughout the entire piece Zoe Scoefield’s choreography forces us to explore what is in the stillness of time and place, or more specifically, the time between action and reaction. The tension builds, the movement energetic but not explosive. Is there is something being held back – repressed in the stillness? And then suddenly unexpected moments of base emotion appear. There is a moment stage left where Ms. Scofield and lead dancer, Raja Feather Kelly, sit facing each other naked and exposed. Initially, they sit still, almost vulnerable. And then the dancers begin to bark and posture like aggressive dogs or angry lovers. Meanwhile, stage right dancer, Christiana Axelsen, dances a stunning Adagio to Shubert, oblivious to the scene right next to her. The juxtaposition of this stunningly beautiful movement with the unbridled display of aggression is unnerving and even, painful. At times there is slight laughter from the audience at the barking display on stage. This is one of the most complelling parts of the piece because it forces us to see that thin line where overt aggression moves into utter absurdity; where we find the comedy in something grotesque and painful. At the same time, Ms. Axelsen diverts our eyes in the Adagio as if to ask us to think again about our concept of how we experience this same moment in time.
Suddenly, that scene ends, and we are next taken to a place where Kelly is dressed in a hooded greek-like costume with the other four dancers morphing across the stage in Scofield’s signature movement, which so graceful yet so inhuman. As each dancer reaches the perceived end or escape, Kelly lifts them up one by one and places them back to their “beginning.” But the dancers keep moving forward, even in mid-air as they are being physically moved back. Inevitably, each dancer escapes the hooded figure. The visual experience is amazing as it continues to press the point that we are moving and/or trapped in the time that zoe|juniper have created.
The piece ends with the entire company donned once again in the beautifully crafted costuming, designed by Erik Andor. They dance in front of a specially made screen that projects video in a 3D grey scale. The images in the background of people walking casually through a square, appear ghost-like, as if they seem to be walking right towards the dancers on stage, attempting to become part of the scene. The contrast makes the audience realize that whatever happened from the start of the piece to the end is just a moment. Life continues on the outside and the art presented to us might just be a quick moment or a lapse of time.