Ballet Hispanico, Photo: Paula Lobo
Ballet Hispanico, Photo: Paula Lobo
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Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
View Profile | More From This Author

Published on October 17, 2007
The Dance Enthusiast

Tere O’Connor RAMMED EARTH (NY premiere)
Choreography by Tere O’Connor
Music by James Baker
Lighting Design by Brian Mac Devitt
Michael O’ Connor
Performed by Hilary Clark Heather Olson Matthew Rogers Christopher Williams

By Christine Jowers –copyright 2007

Not only do we get a program when we walk into the Chocolate Factory for tonight’s show, we also get a map. The audience is going to move tonight. But, one of my friends who is an usher says it is nothing to stress out about. Good, audience participation makes me nervous.

The floor of the white rectangular loft is scattered with folding chairs facing different directions. The ceiling is covered with clear light bulbs hanging from dark wire. Clean and minimal.

We sit with anticipation.

RAMMED EARTH is divided into 4 sections. Each offers us a different perspective of the space we inhabit with the performers. We are intermixed with the work. We see the work against a brick wall. We are on either side of the work. We see the work from a distance.

One of my very favorite parts of the evening was Section I, when we were inside the piece.

The dancers walk into the loft and lean -standing facing forward and upright - against the walls--two of them flat against the long white brick wall to the west and the other two flat against the shorter wall to the north.

We don’t know exactly where to look.

The dancers take time to focus intently on each other and us.

It is right there immediately and simply that they get our undivided attention. We are interacting with them, not shlummping in our seats.

A slow gesture of both arms that looks like the beginning of the crane dance from the KARATE KID starts the movement. It turns into the dancers walking around us at varying speeds. I become very aware of the sounds of their breath and the stomping of their feet. I feel the wind they create as they pass by and as their walking becomes running. Gestures pop in- very specific movements, a complex foreign language on top of upright bodies. Then, surprise-- they really start hauling. The gestures expand…changing level… jumping -- a back is flat, a leg pointed out into space. These guys dance mighty and weighty and unrestricted through the winding aisles around us. It seems a little dangerous (what if they hit us) and it feels exhilarating to be in the middle of it. I love feeling that I am part of the canvas.

I was almost disappointed when we were asked to shift our chairs.

(NOTE- The floor of the loft is Cement and dangerous for dancing. I felt for the performers bones. They did two shows a night. OUCH. Chocolate Factory get a sprung floor for dancers!)

Through out the evening each time the audience is asked to change positions, the details of the space and the atmosphere of the room changes.

In the beginning we are in room with invisible tiny corridors. Our attention is more on the inner maze than the outer walls.

In the second section our attention focuses on how the dancers interact with a white brick wall that is the widest part of the room. The space feels different, more flat. The wall
seems massive when we are directly opposite it. The dancers further emphasize the power
and the obstacle of the wall by hurling their bodies into it, climbing up it, being pummeled against it. We feel the weight of their bodies not only in their big plays
against the brick surface but also in the nuanced little presses of their body parts against it. Echoes of the interaction with the wall are seen when the dancers partner each other off the wall.

There are many memorable wall images: Christopher Williams, upright while his back is pressing against the white flatness, descends to the floor out of a sideways lean. His body moves along the bricks slowly in an arc. He is melting, yet he is very held. It feels like he is in another time zone. Heather Olson’s, front torso pressed against the wall, as she reaches her arms long above her, creates with the lighting, delicate flickering shadows.
Hilary Clark and Matthew Rogers slam the sides of their bodies with high kicked legs into the surface –ouch- and they stick there for a while before moving.

The choreography and the dancing are rich with detail and full movement .The movement pieces that are put together don’t look organic yet somehow they seem perfectly natural. The upper body twists, shifts, and vibrates, operating on one plane, while the lower body appears to be having another un- connected conversation with the floor. No wait, the conversations are connected. There are a lot of really fast and particular disjointed gestures that shift rhythm and speed. There are simple recognizable episodes, (i.e. when Hillary Clark looks as if she is making eggs and toast at high speed with her upper body), that melt into an abstract phrases. It is fascinating to see the dancers move so clearly through whatever they may be doing, they are a pleasure to watch. “ I wonder what the rehearsals are like. “ How on earth do they make THAT up?

In section 3, we are on either side of the dancers against the two narrow walls of the loft. We seem to be peering in on the performers in more intimate private spaces.
In part of this section the composer created a sound track speaking of A Great White Bear “ It sounds like, “What would you do if you saw a great White Bear?” As the Bear Talk goes on, Olson, Williams, and Matthew Rogers lie on the floor and Hillary Clark, standing in front of them on a diagonal performs a guttural moan and a slow descent sliding one leg behind her. It is a curious and a bit scary. Should I be watching?

Familiar situations surge up in the mix of the dense abstract dance environment and elicit laughter. Olson and Rogers positioned as if they are in bed--lying up-- against one of the walls perform a furious set of speedy hand, arm, head gesticulations .At the conclusion of the madness Rogers mutters, “you’ve got the job,” suddenly the previous actions
are imbued with new meaning and Rogers and Olson indulge in a zesty pep rally-ish cheer.

The final image of RAMMED EARTH is hauntingly beautiful. The audience, who has moved to their final position at the narrow end of the space, looks on as the dancers move to the opposite side. The space becomes smaller around the performers, seeming to envelope them. Our vision narrows. Heather Olson, in Matthew Rogers arms, glances our way briefly, speaking softly, inaudibly. What is she saying? We will just have to wonder.

She returns to his embrace as the group recedes like a distant memory.

I wish I could articulate specifically the fineness of the sound score of James Baker and the beautiful lighting work of Brian MacDevitt and Michael O’Connor. Their collaboration with the choreographer and dancers was superb.

See what other people thought of the performance. Or, add your own thoughts.

The Dance Enthusiast

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