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IMPRESSIONS OF: Johanna S. Meyer's "piece.piece"

IMPRESSIONS OF: Johanna S. Meyer's "piece.piece"
Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

By Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone
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Published on September 15, 2015
Photo: Scott Shaw

at Agnes Varis Performance Lab, Gibney Dance 280


Choreographed by: Johanna S. Meyer

Performers: Hadley Smith, Angie Pittman, Jennifer Allen, Emily Bock, Lailye Weidman and Angelica Soledad

Sound designed by Jeff Zahos

Wednesday, September 9 



As audience members queue outside the doors of the Agnes Varis Performance Lab—the small whitebox on the ground floor of Gibney 280—one open door provides a glimpse of a dancer rearranging chairs within the performance space. Other dancers move through the assembled crowd, setting props and drinking water. The audience is visibly uncertain about whether the performance has already begun, and that gentle anxiety pervades much of Johanna S. Meyer’s highly entertaining evening-length work, piece. piece

The cast, in wild animal prints and outlandish ensembles, hold up card board word bubbles
 (From Left to Right) Angélica Angulo Soledad, Hadley Smith, Jennifer Allen, Lailye Weidman, Emily Bock, and Angie Pittman. Photo: Scott Shaw

One of piece. piece’s strongest elements is its configuration within the Performance Lab and the outside lobby. The Lab is narrow and its large double doors remain open to the lobby for most of the evening, giving Meyer an unusually deep field to play with. Dancers walking through the doors and “offstage” into the lobby evoke a camera panning into the wings during a dance documentary. The scale of the performance space suddenly changes. Looking out through the doors feels a bit voyeuristic, and the anxiety-provoking question of what counts as performance resurfaces. But as one dancer rummages through a pile of clothing while another swills an invisible cocktail, the voyeurism fades and is replaced by an invitation to observe.

Meyer’s other main strength is her impeccable sense of timing—comedic and choreographic. The six women who perform the work—Hadley Smith, Angie Pittman, Jennifer Allen, Emily Bock, Lailye Weidman and Angelica Soledad—navigate the Performance Lab with precision and a sense of unadorned calm, linking up in duets, trading places, and hugging the upstage wall. They’re petty without being malicious, clever without being exceptional and desirous without being frantic. When they join together for group unison the effect can be powerfully funny. Sometimes it’s downright powerful.

A dancer in a fur coat stands on chair holding red string as another performer lays on the ground
 Hadley Smith & Angélica Angulo Soledad. Photo: Scott Shaw

piece. piece loses momentum about three-quarters of the way through, but its ending image of a dancer steadily unspooling red rope held in her fist over her heart, redeems the emotional lull that proceeds it. During the post-show talkback, Meyer explained that the performance was created by putting together different “pieces” of her work sourced from her past twenty years of dance making. What might have been a confusing jumble of ideas in less experienced hands allowed Meyer to put her choreographic confidence on full display.  

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