Impressions of Sarah Skaggs Dance's "The New Ecstatic 2.0"
Abrons Arts Center
February 18-21, 2016
Choreographed by Sarah Skaggs
Performed by Sarah Skaggs and Cori Kresge
Sound Design: Kent Barrett / Costumes: Sherry Harper McCombs / Lighting: Jon Harper
There is no easing into Sarah Skaggs’ The New Ecstatic 2.0. The work begins when, all of a sudden, bright light sets the white marley floor aflame and the screaming strings of Krysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima commence. This jarring introduction demands attention and creates an inescapable feeling of unease. When Skaggs and her duet partner Cori Kresge enter the space and present a series of sculptural poses, they embody the intensity and urgency of the setting. Yet there is also something matter-of-fact about their execution; in this high-stress space, they simply exist.
Kresge and Skaggs make a compelling pair. Even when they are dancing side by side and in unison, as they do for much of the work, they remain wholly unique. Usually this manifests in small differences of execution: a slightly different angle in the extension of an arm, or a divergent sense of timing. Sometimes these individualities explode, leading one dancer off into a different movement phrase entirely. But the stray always returns, falling back in step with her partner.
When one woman has a solo, the other stands at the edge of the stage, watching quietly and patiently. Throughout, Skaggs and Kresge engage in constant nonverbal communication, frequently exchanging deliberate glances though their faces do not betray any emotion.
The New Ecstatic 2.0 is, as its name suggests, the expanded version of a work that Skaggs presented at Danspace Project in 2013. She describes the dance as an investigation of trauma and its effects in a post-9/11 world. The sound score provides the primary emotional drive in this regard. It reflects the range of human response to trauma: grief and anger alongside moments of joy and peace. In addition to Penderecki’s Threnody, Glenn Branca’s joyful yet dark Symphony #3 and the pleading "Casta Diva" aria from Bellini’s opera Norma make appearances. The score’s most soothing moments arrive when it fills with nature sounds, like birdsong and wind.
There is a knowing, meditative quality to Skaggs’ dancing. Kresge, on the other hand, vacillates between calm and wildness. In one especially striking moment, she launches into a series of leaps, lifting high off the floor while staying more or less in the same spot. As she jumps, she tosses her head and shoulders with abandon. It is thrillingly animal. Skaggs watches the whole time, and when Kresge ultimately stops, they pause to stare at one another.
While not always riveting, the work is punctuated by captivating moments. In another memorable instance, Kresge finishes a solo in a pained contortion: her feet spread far apart, knees bent deeply, torso bent over, and arms held uncomfortably behind her back. Skaggs approaches her and carefully adopts the same position. I see you and I am here with you, this moment indicates. The New Ecstatic 2.0’s most striking moments have this sentiment in common, suggesting that collective – not individual – response to a catastrophic event is what most interests Skaggs.
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