The Metropolitan Museum of Art Artist-in-Residence Andrea Miller and Gallim in "(C)arbon" at the Met Breuer
The Met Breuer, Floor 5
Performances: May 18-20 and 22-24
Free with Museum admission
More information at The Met Breuer
Continuum is the word that best describes Andrea Miller’s choreographic journey. She says, “One creative process grows into the next.” Sometimes, she works in opposition or contradiction to previous preoccupations. Other times, she goes deeper into them.
Much like a scientist, Miller poses questions and then tries to answer them through movement. For the audience, performances are similar to “a lab visit” — an opportunity to witness the fruits of the research performed by her and Gallim, the company she founded in 2007.
Her newest work, (C)arbon is both an installation and a traditional performance. She developed the piece as part of her 2017/2018 season as Artist-in-Residence at The Metropolitan Museum of Art where she’s the first choreographer to hold this distinction. (C)arbon delves into Miller’s curiosity about the body, specifically “what makes it human?” This question hearkens back to our early ancestors who climbed down from the trees and walked across the earth as bipedal beings. It also explores, as Miller says, the “body as a contemporary thing.”
In rehearsals at their Brooklyn-based studio, Miller and the dancers of Gallim interrogated and investigated various scenarios. During one, they played around with the difference between observing one’s body and having it observed as a way to “authentically understand” oneself.
Miller didn’t want to only portray the body in certain stages, like childhood or old age. Instead, she considered the arc from fetus to death. “A fetus makes an effort,” she says, “But they don’t know the goal.” Although her dancers execute set choreography in (C)arbon, they must remain “completely present,” experiencing the effort, but forgetting their destination.
She calls (C)arbon “site-responsive” to The Met Breuer, the contemporary arm of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Unlike her Stone Skipping, which took place at The Met’s cavernous Temple of Dendur, this will unfold in a trio of rooms that isolate her three areas of research into looping 30-minute pieces. One space will feature a solo, another a duet, and the last will contain a group piece. Attendees can witness firsthand how the body responds to these disparate environments and assemblages.
Miller cautions that (C)arbon isn’t about the corporeality or anatomy of humans. Instead, look to the title for a hint. It comes from the idea of “putting us back into the spectrum of life,” Miller says. We’re animals, but we’re also, in her words, “stardust.”
Miller collaborated with filmmaker Ben Stamper because, in dance performances, “the scale is fixed.” The two have been working independently and will put everything together “to see what happens,” much like Merce Cunningham and John Cage. Stamper’s film zooms in on different parts of the body until even the pulse is visible. It also shows the body at a distance, blurred and almost unidentifiable. “How far away can we still recognize a body?” she asks.
I watched one of the open rehearsals that ran in mid-May in anticipation of (C)arbon’s opening on May 18 (it will run through May 24 except for May 21 when The Breuer is closed). Fresh-faced dancers swept through deep squats, propulsive jerks, and flexed-footed kicks. A whirling of one arm ended with that arm draped over the head, covering an ear. Miller stopped them occasionally to refine and to clarify. She wanted more snugness in a lift; she suggested adding an Instagram filter to a moment in a duet.
Against the backdrop of Stamper’s languid film, which highlighted the curl of veins around an ankle and a frond of eyelashes, four dancers ran through the solo together. “The individual changes the choreography and influences it,” Miller told us. And they did, some moving slower, others sharper, through “walks” in which the legs dangle in the air as the shoulders scoot forward. Their performances existed, if you will, on a continuum.
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