IMPRESSIONS: RAMMED EARTH Co-Produced by The Chocolate Factory and Danspace Project
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
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 four sections. Each offers 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 one, when we were inside the piece.The dancers walk into the loft and lean (facing forward) 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.They 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 invery 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!)
Throughout 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 the dancers' interaction with a white brick wall - the widest part of the room. The space feels different, more flat. The wall seems massive. 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 - melting, yet very held. 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 into the surface of the wall – OUCH. They stick there a while before moving.
Rich with detail, and fast with particular,disjointed gestures, the work doesn't look organic yet somehow it seems perfectly natural. The upper body twists, shifts, and vibrates, operating on one plane, while the lower body appears to be having another unconnected conversation with the floor. (No, wait - the conversations are connected.)
Simple recognizable episodes, (i.e. when Hillary Clark looks as if she is making eggs and toast at high speed with her upper body), melt into an abstract phrases. The dancers move clearly through whatever they may be doing, a real pleasure to watch. (I wonder what the rehearsals are like. How on earth do they make THAT up?)
In section three, we seem to be peering in on the performers in more intimate. private spaces. For part of this, the composer created a sound track speaking of a great white bear: “What would you do if you saw a great white bear?” As the bear talk goes on, Olson, Williams, and Rogers lie on the floor while Hillary Clark, standing in front of them moans deeply, guttarly, and slowly descends to the floor, sliding one leg behind her. Curious and a bit scary. (Should I be watching?)
Familiar situations surge in the mix of the dense dance environment and elicit laughter. Olson and Rogers positioned as if they are in bed, but "lying-up" vertically against one of the walls, perform a furious set of speedy hand, arm, and head gesticulations. At the conclusion of the madness Rogers mutters, “you’ve got the job,” suddenly the previous actions are imbued with new comic meaning and Rogers and Olson indulge in a zesty pep rally-ish cheer.
The final image of RAMMED EARTH is hauntingly beautiful. The audience, moved to their last 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. Olson in Rogers arms, glances our way briefly, speaking softly, inaudibly. What is she saying? 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 quality of the beautiful lighting work of Brian MacDevitt and Michael O’Connor. Their collaboration with the choreographer and dancers was superb.
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