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IMPRESSIONS: Jody Oberfelder's "4Chambers"

IMPRESSIONS: Jody Oberfelder's  "4Chambers"

Published on February 25, 2014
Photo: Julie Lemberger

A Journey Into The Heart

Arts@Renaissance through March 22, 2014
Thursdays 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
For Tickets to the program, click Jody Oberfelder Projects

Choreography: Jody Oberfelder
Performance (rotating cast): Megan Bascom, Zavhary Denison, Rayvawn Johnson, Joey Kipp, Mary Madsen, Lonnie Poupard, Jr., Shane Rutkowski, Meredes Searer, Lily Bo Shapiro

Video: Jason Bahling / Lighting: Kryssy Wright

Sound and Music Design: Sean Hagrety, Richard Einhorn, Matt McBane and  Jonathan Melville Pratt

Dramaturgy: Pele Bauch / Costumes: Jody Oberfelder

The heart — pumping blood and throbbing with feeling — is omnipresent in our real and imagined lives. Jody Oberfelder’s 4Chambers frees it from its bony cage, unleashing its corporeal and metaphorical possibilities.

It isn't for wimps. 4Chambers is deeply experiential, requiring its half-dozen or so audience members to follow assigned dancer-docents through a maze of rooms. Four "chambers" and two "arteries" are devoted to heart-inspired phenomena.

In the Artery of Knowledge, we discover stalls featuring short video installations. Ishmael Houston-Jones recounts his recent brush with a heart attack; in another, a geeky man circa 1965 offers exuberant, full-bodied demonstrations of cardiac arrhythmias. While in the Film Chamber, we recline on our backs and watch a ceiling-projected movie of dancers’ bodies kaleidoscopically dissolving in and out of one another. Our involvement is not limited to the cerebral. 

Jody Oberfelder Projects' 4Chambers; Photo: Julie Lemberger

Upon entering the Physical Chamber, a dancer-docent teases you into joining him or her in an improvisational duet. My partner, the lustrous Mary Madsen, and I press our backs against the salmon-colored walls and creep around the room’s edge. The performers peer deeply into our eyes, hold our hands, and at one point, dance for us, pumping their chests and swiveling their hips. It is unnerving — but exhilarating — to be so intimate with a stranger.

4Chambers a Journey Into The Heart The Dancers  Moving
Jody Oberfelder Projects' 4Chambers; Photo:Julie Lemberger

The dancers do establish their physical fleetness in the Pulsing Chamber. Raw and combative, they pitch themselves helter-skelter and climb the scarlet-curtained walls. We cower as bodies heedlessly zip and hurl inches from us. Without moving a muscle, our heart rate soars. Each chamber seeks to examine how our hearts react to specific stimuli.

In the Aural Artery, we place our fingers on illuminated green buttons, and the sound of our amplified heartbeat resounds, eliciting awe. When executed as a group, it becomes a symphonic march. Hearts also respond to discomfiture. After attaching a monitoring device to our fingers, our dancer-docents situate us in a row of chairs facing individual video cameras. It feels like confronting a firing squad. Our executioner is a projection of Edward Einhorn, the American playwright, theatrical director, and novelist with a penchant for absurdism.

 Jody Oberfelder Projects' 4Chambers; Photo: Julie Lemberger

Bespectacled with a grim, penetrating gaze, he volleys questions as our faces randomly appear next to his. Some — Do you miss your cell phone? — evokes humorous responses. A guy cracks he would Instagram a photo of this. Many make us squirm. Einhorn grills us about our daily fulfillment and asks if we think about death. Sheepishly, we trip over our words as our cheeks grow hot. Unlike the multi-emotional communion we shared with our dancer-docents, this excavation of our private feelings feels flat and discordant.

It’s a recurring gesture — placing a hand over another’s heart — that captures the thrust of 4Chambers. It’s not about slowing your blood pressure or feeling your chest thrum with excitement. It’s about humanity; connecting heart to heart with another.

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