Impressions of Lance Gries’ “IF Immanent Field”
Created by Lance Gries with Juliette Mapp and Jimena Paz
Performed by Lance Gries, Diane Madden, Juliette Mapp, and Jimena Paz
Production Concept and Deign by Lance Gries
Sound Composition and Execution by Ryan Seaton
Costume Consultation and Execution by Liz Prince
Lighting Design by Carol Mullins
Chaos theory contends that an apparent lack of order in a system is, in fact, false, as systems obey specific laws and rules. In other words, just because we don’t understand — or can even identify — esoteric structures, doesn’t mean that organization isn’t present.
Lance Gries seemingly applies this idea of systems conforming to underlying rules in his piece, IF Immanent Field. Through the piece’s trajectory, he gradually divulges the methods that govern it.
He constructs a circular performance space with boundaries defined by loosely grouped chairs and photography studio light banks. Upon entering before the 8 p.m. start time, you will notice that the performance has already begun: Gries with Juliette Mapp and Jimena Paz mill about the space, etching arcane pathways with their arms. They are attired in jogging pants and baggy, robe-like tops that they later discard to reveal black tunics fashioned from a wet-looking fabric.
Each dancer cycles through what appears to be an independently determined vocabulary of a couple of dozen positions. Pacing about the space with reflective expressions, they use their arms to affect a balletic first position; they stretch them out to the side and flex their wrists. For the longest time, there is little change in these clear but cryptic actions, which unfold at a deliberate, contemplative pace. An occasional bend of the torso or a lunge of the legs is all that interrupts this ceaseless walking and tracing of arms. Like stumbling into a yoga or martial arts class for the first time, it’s a mind/body practice that only makes sense to its practitioners.
Reminiscent of a force field, small, external changes gradually assert change. Lights dim and re-brighten, and Ryan Seaton’s burbling, New-Agey soundtrack stops and re-starts. Diane Madden, clad in a floor-length silver dress, ambles in and positions herself center. Rotating in place, she lifts her arms like a zombie. Two people stationed in the audience, as if sucked into a vortex, wander into the space and imitate the enigmatic actions.
At one point, all four performers find themselves in a humongous lunge; it’s the first demonstration of unison. These moments begin to appear with more regularity until Gries, Mapp, and Paz yoke the movement vocabulary into one dynamic phrase. Chaos has been temporarily clarified.
Gries spent years as a performer with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, and his skill for imbuing pedestrian movements with meaning is unparalleled. Using his breath, innocuous actions take on supple eloquence, stretching and extending like silken elastic. Mapp, Madden, and Paz, while long-limbed and graceful, cannot match Gries’ ability to embody flesh with spirit.
At 70-minutes plus the 15-minute overture, the work, without much energy save the rousing group phrase, can feel overlong and cerebral. Like watching static on television and realizing you are watching the universe be born (about 1% of the static is leftover from the Big Bang), IF Immanent Field sometimes seems more interesting to think about than to watch.
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