IMPRESSIONS: Jody Oberfelder Projects Presents "Rube G. - The Consequence of Action" at Gibney 280

IMPRESSIONS: Jody Oberfelder Projects Presents "Rube G. - The Consequence of Action" at Gibney 280
Catherine Tharin

By Catherine Tharin
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Published on March 29, 2023
(L-R) G.Tong, A. Merker, P. Menesis; photo by Julie Lemberger

Jody Oberfelder Projects Presents
Rube G. - The Consequence of Action
Directed by Jody Oberfelder
Choreographed in collaboration with Grace Yi-Li Tong, Paulina Meneses, and Ashley Merker
Music by Frank London and J.S. Bach, Goldberg Variations, played by Isabelle O'Connell
Costumes by Claire Fleury
March 19, 2023

Jody Oberfelder hits the right notes in Rube G. - A Consequence of Action, her latest offering performed at Gibney 280, Studio C.  This deft, interactive work, unpretentious and bright, involves the audience as seated performers who, led by three amiable women dancers, clap, stamp, swing, and bend. Strings of consecutive audience-performed movements, inspired by cartoonist Rube Goldberg's Rube Goldberg Machine, bookend dance sections. (Goldberg sketched imagined machines with many moving parts, one complex action triggering the next, the sillier the better, to achieve a desired, often simple, outcome.) 

Asian woman dancer with long black braid holds hand with a white woman with long, fuzzy hair tied back in a low ponytail. Their arms are held above audience members who are seated on pink three-legged stools. The dancers wear bright color-block costumes, primarily yellow, oranges and reds with large green dots.
(L-R) Grace Yi-Li Tong and Ashley Merker hold hands aloft audience members; photo by Julie Lemberger

The fifth iteration of this dance met Oberfelder's intention to involve the audience as watcher and performer. Prior versions emphasized props or were performed as proscenium stage productions. In contrast, the dancers (Paulina Meneses, Ashley Merker, and Grace Yi-Li Tong), worked with Oberfelder to develop lever-like movements that moved through, around, behind, or front and back of the seated audience, much to the delight of those experiencing the action. Unlike performances where the audience is passive, this audience is required to be alert.

Light pink three-legged stools, on which the audience sat, formed three large rings arranged around architectural support columns, like a three-ringed circus, in which the dancers danced. Performers perched, balanced, and revolved on intermingled brightly colored stools, painted by Oberfelder’s artist friends. One dancer began a movement, a clap, for instance, that she held. Copied one by one by each audience member, like the game ‘telephone’, each holds that movement until the next movement begins. A foot stomp, swiftly chopping hand movements, arms extended, the crossing of legs, the recrossing of legs was proffered.  This puts one in mind of stadium waves that roll through the crowd. The audience both creates and takes in the action.

The audience movement began and ended predictably with the dancers who sat on assigned stools. Perhaps, the audience could take some responsibility for movement. This, of course, is a gamble, one that the choreographer probably considered. Still, one hoped for peaks of sheer wildness. The dance, and Oberfelder's adroit and skillful choreographic experience, could support this. 

Audience, seated on three legged pink stools, sit side by side with outstretched horizontal arms
Paulina Meneses shaking hands with an audience member; photo by Julie Lemberger

Emphasizing the festive atmosphere was music created by Klezmatics co-founder, composer Frank London, who originally commissioned the dance. In addition to traditional brass instruments (trumpet saxophone, tuba), the circus-esque sounds include kazoo, gong, ratchet whistle, bicycle horn, slide whistle, nose flute and triangle, all of which the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians names “small instruments.”  Recorded scores from past live performances and a film of clips provide the current accompaniment. This includes London's accomplished band playing jazzy interludes. Found on YouTube were slot and dropped coin sounds integral to homemade machines.   Bach's Goldberg Variations complemented quieter moments.

Three dancers lift their arms diagonally and hold hands in the center of the audience.
(L-R) Grace Yi-Li Tong, Ashley Merker, and Paulina Meneses; photo by Julie Lemberger

Dancers partner audience members by shaking, tapping, or encircling outstretched hands. They turn audience members around. "Let's Go," "Stop, stop." "Ashley, are you coming?"  "Whoa, whoa." "It's just modern dance." "I got her,” declare the dancers. They sigh, whoop, slurp, and breathe deeply. They pile on top of one another. They pick up stools and pound them down. Trios become duets become trios. A derriere fits into arms formed in a circle. Dancers jump from two legs to a squat, then slap thighs while flinging themselves and urge, "Could you make a sound?" In unison with arms extended horizontally, dancers slinky turn, slide, and rock side to side. They revolve with arms stretched overhead. In giant X's, they lean and turn. They roll from their stomachs to their backs, with legs extended upward. They lift aloft a leaping dancer.

The nonstop machinelike action, interspersed with moments of relieving quietude, engages throughout. However, though machines are predictable sometimes they break down and pieces go flying. Machines are not always in control. More entanglement, commotion and bustle would further enliven the work and leave the viewer fully satisfied.

Choreographer Jody Oberfelder dressed in a color block costume of red, yellow, black, white and green, squats in front of a seated woman audience dressed in a long green shirt. They clasp forearms.
Jody Oberfelder sharing a moment with an audience member; photo by Julie Lemberger

Oberfelder's self-assured solo to Bach, one of the low-pitched lacunas, begins with Oberfelder tapping audience hands. She also stands on her own hands, rolls onto her bottom, and lopes from circle to circle. She stands on her head and slowly opens and closes her legs. On the floor, she takes her time, and 'rows' (as if on a rowing machine) toward me. She asserts, "Can you give me a hand?" Gladly! And I pull her up.

By the end, the dancers are spent. With chests heaving, they lean against a wall behind the audience. They snuffle and yawn as the audience yawns empathetically. Eventually, the dancers stand and amble to their stools, rapidly pounding their feet as they go. Everyone joins until the sound reaches a heightened pitch. Oberfelder unobtrusively lifts her stool and places it in the center of one of the circles.  Following Oberfelder, each audience member fits their stool in an ad hoc jigsaw-like group constructed sculpture. The last stool, in a gesture of completion, nearly touches the ceiling.

Pink three-legged stools piled one on the other; the top stools' legs are reaching ceiling ward. Dancers and audience members are in the background. A lilac color streams up one wall while a black curtain streaked with greenish light covers the other
Pink stools form an ad hoc audience generated sculpture; photo by Julie Lemberger

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