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IMPRESSIONS: Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson in "another piece apart" at New York Live Arts

IMPRESSIONS: Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson in "another piece apart" at New York Live Arts

By Cecly Placenti

Published on October 29, 2018
Photo: David Gonsier

October 12, 7:30PM

Onto a stage shrouded in silence and shadows, Jennifer Nugent walks slowly, as if listening to the space with her whole body. Paul Matteson enters, equally receptive, and together they embark on a journey of splintered togetherness and intricate partnership. Nugent and Matteson display a captivating connection, a soulful awareness of each other that is both tender and powerful. Watching them feels like overhearing their most intimate conversation, discovering their most sacred secrets.

another piece apart organically builds into contact improvisation, highlighting the negative space between two bodies as they fit themselves together like a three-dimensional puzzle. As the piece grows in intensity, Nugent and Matteson take each other’s weight seamlessly as if they are one body, attuned to every detail of movement and touch. The couple flows through supportive shapes where the point of balance is the other person's body. Suddenly, one is off the ground and rotating only to come down as the other becomes airborne — almost a kaleidoscope of body parts. Together, they move like synovial fluid between joints, cushioning each other like clouds.

Two figures run side by side. They both wear maroon-colored briefs and tank tops.
Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson in another piece apart; Photo: David Gonsier

Oscillating between heightened sensitivity and an absence of tenderness, the two masterfully use movement and gesture as catalysts for emotion. This emphasis cultivates a solemn silence within the space. Conversation ebbs and flows between them as perceptual knots eager for release unravel.

Their ability to share energy and weight and to swiftly accommodate the changing kinetic idea of the other speaks of deep understanding and respect — hallmarks of long-time partnership, which they formed in 2005. Additionally, the two have danced with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and David Dorfman to result in a shared bodily history. Yet both are unique and mesmerizing movers. Nugent devours space with a strong, long physicality while Matteson articulates his hip, shoulder, or head with wily plasticity. They complement each other like tea and honey.

Nugent and Matteson interwine their limbs while sitting on the ground. Matteson's leg rests on Nugent's should and side of face. Their hands touch.
Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson in another piece apart; Photo: David Gonsier

As their knotted duet becomes more effortful, they show struggle with increasing speed and forceful contact. Grunts and wheezes punctuate the sound of hands slapping against calves as the couple bounces and rolls like a large beach ball — voluminous and light. Watching them, I experience a sort of cognitive dissonance. They move with weighted weightlessness, buoyant but strong, a couple made to move together and create brilliantly structured, emotionally resonant kinetic architecture.

As the piece ebbs to stillness, Nugent rolls upstage to rest against the back wall, leaving Matteson seated alone downstage, bathed in waning light. At this moment, the conversation ends, and their struggle reaches a tenuous resolution. The two pieces of a whole are apart, perhaps to come together on another day and begin the act of connecting and disconnecting once again.

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