***This event was a double bill that was held at two locations in the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Frame Dances was an installation, and Adamantine was a seated theater event in the Howard Gilman space on a separate floor. ****
Lights On or Off?
You walk into a big rectangular room framing three squares lined up on the floor: a sandbox built for two, a patch of Astroturf with a fence around it, and a large plastic cube with a harness in it. You look up and see three video screens on three different walls in the big rectangular room. There are video cameras on tripods by each square, and when you walk in, a nice young lady tells you to “feel free to wander around the room.”
Susan Marshall & Company "Adamantine"
Pictured -Ildiko Toth-Photo by Rosalie O' Connor
The square structures in and of themselves could be gallery pieces—two prosaic sculptures and a conceptual art piece perhaps? The lights dim and the first video piece comes up: bodies intertwining on a green patch of grass, a man having a cup of tea as spring turns to fall and clothes shift and peel off. The word “sculpture” comes to mind again as the performers on video squirm against the confines of the frame.
Two live performers enter the space and the sandbox. They perform a duet that is simultaneously projected onto the three screens, which sets the precedent for the following two pieces. As bodies and sand fly out of the sandbox you become aware of the tension between the gravely three dimensionality of the live performance and the smooth two dimensions of video. Before the other two live feed pieces begin, pre-recorded video of two men in a milky bath, submerging and emerging as their bodies slip and glide around each other lights up the screens. With one hand still in the gritty sandbox, you now get the urge to wash it clean in a cool milk bath as you think of the word “texture.”
Lights up on the bright patch of Astroturf. The whole company, including a few guests of wide ranging ages and abilities slides under a low wooden fence. They wiggle and stretch on their bellies, backs, and sides as they get pushed and pulled across the turf in a continuous conveyor belt of bodies. On the video feed it looks as if they’re magically flying into and out of frame, but live, you get a peek at the chaotic machinery under the hood. There’s a “house of mirrors” effect---where you see two images that look different, and though you know you’re looking at the same thing, you try to hold those two images in your mind simultaneously, but only one can stay in the frame.
Lights down. Spotlight on the large plastic cube as it fills with smoke, and someone is strapping a performer up in a harness. You start to expect a Houdini-esque escape stunt. But alas, the performer is lifted from the ground and “suspends”…
Close your eyes reach out your hands and touch this. Wrap your arms around it. What does it feel like? Can you picture in your minds eye what it might look like, just by feeling it?
Susan Marshall and Company’s newest dance experience, Adamantine has you groping around in the dark with your imagination and your sixth sense. The work is almost as tactile for the viewer as it is for the sensuous performers on stage as they writhe, smack, caress, and kiss all that is material and immaterial.
Susan Marshall & Company "Adamantine" Photo by Rosalie O'Connor
Marshall uses inventive lighting techniques, that while gimmicky at times, are nonetheless effective in their ability to create a sense of mystery; a sense that we do not necessarily know what lies around that corner, or how that argument ended after the lights went out.
Mark Stanley’s lighting design was the ninth performer onstage (if we include musicians Peter Whitehead and Elton Bradman), and definitely the most promiscuous. While Marshall’s company is known for their genuine sense of intimacy onstage—half familial, half carnal, their relationship with the strobes, spots, projections, and functional lights seemed forced—a bit like a couple trying to “spice things up” with varying degrees of success.
Cinematically, Adamantine views as film noir—all contrast and distortion, limp bodies that appear from nowhere, giant curtains that hide half the
Susan Marshall & Company "Adamantine"
Pictured: Kristen Hollinsworth , Photo by Rosalie O'Connor
action, provocative choreographic motifs that return again and again begging to be noted for future reference. The sense of noir is only ever interrupted by the live country/folk songs that steer our sexy thriller into “road movie” territory—another contrast? Possibly. A definite non-sequiter in terms of tone, as if she felt she needed to pull away from being heavy handed with sensualism, and inject a bit of the cornpone to douse the smolder.
Whatever the mood, whatever the tone, you hold a Susan Marshall piece up to any kind of light and you’ll see the watermarks of meticulous craftsmanship and deeply felt movement.
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