michael j. morris


MIKE: an exhibition featuring No Place Studios

Last night I had the opportunity to see a new exhibit at The Gallery at Till Dynamic Fare. I love this space. I’ve see exceptional performances in this space—such as Leigh Lotocki and Noelle Chun’s Hold Swayand participated in community events hosted by Till—namely the ongoing activities of the Peach District, such as last June’s Peach District Classic, an all day party featuring a spectacular line-up of live performance where I performed in a dance worked conceived of by Zachariah Baird and Sharon Udo, and this year’s Noble Peach Awards, an award show honoring members of the Columbus community who might otherwise escape notice, where I had the honor of presenting Eileen Galvin with the award for Biggest Genderfuck. This space is already special to me, and “MIKE: an exhibition featuring No Place Studios” adds even more significance to this list.

“MIKE” is the first exhibition presenting the work of No Place Studios. These nine artists graduated from Columbus College of Art and Design in 2012, and established the studio based on friendship, rebellion, and a shared drive to create contemporary art in Columbus. This introductory exhibition of No Place Studios coincides with a kicking off of exhibitions and arts events this season at the re-instated gallery inside Till dynamic fare. This exhibit was organized by Leigh Lotocki, adding to the list great work that Leigh has done in this city.

I didn’t think I would have time to write about this show, but when I continue to be struck by work that I’ve seen a day later, I don’t know how to not respond to it in writing. There’s a lot of good work in this show, but there were several pieces that specifically captured my attention:

The first is entitled “We’re going on vacation” by Erin McKenna (2013).

McKenna_1

Erin McKenna
we’re going on vacation
2013
altered pieces of hot tub, glitter, flocking, sculptamold, expanding foam, acrylic paint, enamel paint, vinyl, bowling ball

Erin McKenna we're going on vacation 2013 altered pieces of hot tub, glitter, flocking, sculptamold, expanding foam, acrylic paint, enamel paint, vinyl, bowling ball

Erin McKenna
we’re going on vacation
2013
altered pieces of hot tub, glitter, flocking, sculptamold, expanding foam, acrylic paint, enamel paint, vinyl, bowling ball

Erin McKenna we're going on vacation 2013 detail

Erin McKenna
we’re going on vacation
2013
detail

This work consists of five free standing sculptural pieces, each one a twisting topography of color, texture, scale, and luminosity, rough pinks and glittery silvers and shimmering blacks pushing against smooth, swirling teals and blues, resting on geometric puddles of highly reflective vinyl. I say resting, but these pieces don’t really rest; even stationary, they seem to turn, or rather they persistently insist that I move around them.

Constructed from altered pieces of a fiber glass hot tub, each form continually solicits my attention. As I approach it from one side, slivers and glimpses of another facet are reflected in the metallic vinyl. I am drawn around to another side by the hint and glint and glow of what I can see only partially, and once I come to this other side, the piece has changed. It is not the same shape from this side, and how its colors sit alongside one another has shifted. Here the black seems to leap out towards me between the pink and the silver. Here the beige of the fiberglass seems to wrap around and embrace the collision of pink and silver. Here the swirled acrylic blues and teals seem to wash up onto a hot glittering pink coast. Here the light is refracted differently, the shimmering glittery surfaces fragmenting the light from above into billions of twinkling points that are then caught and blurred and reflected by the metallic surface above which it sparkles. As I follow the play of light across these multiple twisting surfaces, I realize that I’m moving again, crouching to see how the piece seems to be glowing from underneath, leaning to see what else comes into view just around the curve of its side, stepping forward the see the full fragment framed by the glow from beneath. These objects are choreographing me, in a sense. It’s an indeterminate choreography, or maybe a joint improvisation, a score of movement given by the parameters of the piece. I keep moving in order to keep seeing what else this piece is showing me.

This is not the only way that I feel my body implicated into this piece: there is the unavoidable recognition of the curving ergonomic surfaces of the hot tub from which these objects have been cut. I feel how these sloping ledges and crevices might have curved against my body, supporting my reclining and sitting—not to mention the lifestyle that might afford such leisure. Or maybe this actually must be mentioned: maybe the destruction of the hot tub, the reorientation of its surfaces and supports cannot be considered apart from the lifestyles for which it was designed. The wealthy. The vacationers. The middle class who just want to treat themselves to something nice. However else these surface might have been, they can no longer support such bodies in those ways, and to the degree that the ergonomics of these surfaces were materialized through their orientation towards the surfaces of such leisurely bodies, to see them as they are now—dismembered, manipulated—I feel my own body differently as well. It’s subtle. I don’t feel myself going to pieces, but as I crouch and twist and lean and move along these surfaces with my sight, the body of mine that could press against these curves and slopes as they are now would not, could not, resemble the body for which they were initially designed.

I’m also interested in how the space gets drawn into the materials of the piece, not only in the play of light across the glitter and color and so on, but also how the room, the other art in the gallery, and the viewers get reflected in the sometimes hazy surface of the metallic vinyl. Each object seems to sit in the reflection of a distorted world, a world distorted in ways not dissimilar to the way that my body feels disrupted by the deconstruction of the shape(s) of the hot tub. I cannot tell you much about this world, except to say that it is made less familiar as it is brought into the looking-glass surfaces of McKenna’s work.

As each of these objects continues to disclose or offer more of itself to my attention, I am drawn in again and again by something like interest that bleeds into care. I am becoming invested in these objects, these materials, as they continue to unfold in my attention to them. I stay with them a little longer, and in doing so, I come to see more of them; in fact, my sense is that they come to show me more of themselves. There is something living, something almost ecological developing between us. Sustaining relations are in formation: the ongoing disclosure of the object sustains my attention. I cannot help but think that my attention, along with the attendance and attention of others gathered at this opening, sustains the circulation of these object, the production of such objects, the operation of this gallery space. Further, these relations between myself and these objects initiate and/or sustain other relations, such as social relations, the formation or sustainment of [this] community that has gathered in this space, in this neighborhood.

I have a similar experience with another work in the exhibit: James McDevitt-Stredney‘s “She was so cold to do so” (2013).

James McDevitt-Stredney She was so cold to do so 2013 oil, graphite, enamel on panel

James McDevitt-Stredney
She was so cold to do so
2013
oil, graphite, enamel on panel

This painting does something similar and different with me. Like McKenna’s sculptures, this piece continually draws me into seeing more of itself, more texture, more color, more detail. Rather than moving my body around the space, it draws my eyes over and over and around its surfaces. But the effect is distinct. Here I am drawn into subtle gradients that realize the complexity of what seemed simple on first encounter. For instance, when I first came to this piece, it seemed quite simply “a white painting” with some Cy Twombly-esque graphite doodles that could, from certain angles, suggest a form, with some thick streaks of white paint, and a cluster of hot bright spray paint near the top and off of center. But as my eyes move over its surface(s), I begin to see that this white is actually many whites, many viscosities, many strokes and strata, the accumulation of many actions. Many of these whites are not “pure” white, but rather contain streaks and strains of other colors, other contaminates that are somehow subsumed into what passes as white, but that eventually disclose their presence. Although the bright spots of enamel near the top—pink and orange and yellow bursting into one another—are the most pronounced intrusions of color into what might otherwise seem simply white, they merely mark the most extreme or the most intense of such intrusions. Indeed, as the more subtle spectrums of the painting disclose themselves—the lighter whites, the whites that are more beige, the flat and grey and pink whites—the intensity or extremity of these bright spots seems relatively diminished. They aren’t the only colors on an otherwise white and graphite surface; they are colors among other colors, perhaps the most flamboyant, but deviant only amongst other deviations. Similarly, what seems like an otherwise smooth topographic plane streaked by a few thick marks of white paint in a few places reveals itself to be much more textured, the thick streaks marking the highest “elevations” on a map of other markings. This is central to how I come to experience this piece, the ongoing disclosure of differences and diversity that were not initially visible to me, the rendering of what seems like extremes—white and color, flat and raised—into a spectrum of possibilities. It becomes something about the distribution of contamination, the impossibility of purity or singularity or even duality, the realization of multiplicity.

If I follow the thought process that I started above regarding the solicitation of attention as the constitution of almost ecological sustaining relations, then “She was so cold to do so” emphasizes the further recognition of difference as part of the establishment of such relations. I could almost call this effect queer: if we understand part of the function of “queer” to be the marking of otherwise unmarked possibilities, making feasible what might otherwise be impossible, establishing a spectrum where there was initially a binary, then I might articulate my experience of these pieces alongside one another as facilitating an experience of queer [ecological] relations, in ways that move and reorient my body, in ways that make visible the initially invisible spectrum of marks and surfaces, in ways the inspire my interest, attention, and care.

Needless to say, if you’re in Columbus, I hope you have an opportunity to see this show.
It will be on view from May 10-June 9.
The Gallery at Till Dynamic Fare is located at 247 King Ave, Columbus, Ohio 43201.
There will also be a party there after Gallery Hop, with live music and more snacks in the gallery on Saturday, June 1 from 8–11pm.

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hold sway

proximity
visibility
contact

they see one another
and they continue to see one another
even when their eyes are looking
elsewhere

toes seek the floor
like eyes opening out onto
hardwood vistas
and this is how each one’s mass
approaches
orbits
collapses into and pushes off of
the other’s

the excess of each exchange
is always retained
it goes somewhere
propels them into whatever comes next
with the meager force that is the
remainder
of weight and thrust and caress and push and pull

I see them seeing one another even when their eyes are looking elsewhere
seeing turns into feeling
as if it could have always been feeling all along
if only we could just get past all that distance.

this will not be a very refined piece of writing.
I’m recovering from a cold, I’m behind on grading papers…I’m behind on a lot of things.
this will be more like a response, a gesture following the gestures of HOLD SWAY, the duet choreographed and performed by Noelle Chun and Leigh Lotocki this evening at Till Dynamic Fare in Columbus, OH. there are two more performances, Saturday, November 3 at 7PM and 9PM (Neo V Gallery inside Till Dynamic Fare, 247 King Avenue).

this initial doodle of a poem (above) was how I dealt with the opening of the piece, a duet that followed text, text that suggested—among other things—that there was the possibility that there were already many duets happening, and that this duet would continue even after the performance was over. this duet is simultaneously so strong and so sensitive. both Chun and Lotocki demonstrate a such a heightened sense of where their bodies are in space, each joint and surface and ounce, how it shifts on and around its supports, and how it gives way to find support beyond itself, in the body of the other. their bodies yield forcefully—and sometimes not so forcefully—into one another, around one another, bounding and rebounding, springing into and out of one another and the floor as if all these elements were somehow caught in the gentle tug of one another’s gravity. I can’t stop watching their eyes. when they are looking at one another, they are seeing one another. there is nothing presentational about this seeing; it is not as if they are demonstrating to the audience, “we are seeing one another.” they are simply seeing. but what is exhilarating to witness is the way in which their bodies find one another, the ways their surfaces and weight meet, even when they are no longer looking at one another. even after doubtless countless rehearsals, there is a seeking out of one another as they move, a push and a fling and a soft throw out into space knowing [trusting] that they will meet one another in the air. as they make contact—shin to hip, palm to back of neck, waist thrown into arm, leg pushed into chest—I can watch as each one’s weight becomes their weight, however briefly, and together they redistribute that weight back into each body, back out into the space, down into the floor, only to follow that momentum, the remainder of their encounter, into another drop, another push, another fall or fling or spring. together, they are more, and that more carries over into their separateness, only to draw them back again into one another, together.

in the second section part of the piece, entitled “duet #2: too much too little”—with live music provided by Andrew Graham and Sharon Udoh (Counterfeit Madison)—Chun and Lotocki dance behind a screen that is about the height of their shoulder lines. a light from behind projects their dancing shadows onto the screen. tiny little tops of bodies drifting above big shadow-bodies. the distortion of the scale, the slice of the screen that bifurcates their bodies, the blending of the shadows into one another, and those precious moments in which their top halves get away from their bottom halves, and we are left with four halves, seeming to dance independently of one another: in the encounter between dancing bodies and backlight and screen and space and viewer, we all become somehow more. what I am seeing is not simply what they are dancing. the dancing meets the light, and that meeting encounters the screen, and that encounter meets the space, across which it comes into contact with me, my eyes. they said from the beginning that there was the possibility that there were already many duets going on, and in this “duet #2,” I glimpse some of the many ways in which we and our world partner one another, each of us becoming more in and through the encounter. material intra-activities, intersubjective realities, each of us—and I do not only mean the people—become apparatuses through which we are all extended and reinvented, in ways both small and big. these are the manifold duets, and certainly they continue far beyond the performance.

hold close.
pull in tight.
look at me and see me
and see me as if
you can feel me
and feel me
even when you aren’t looking at me
and see how much more we can be
when we meet across
all that distance.



Inscription

While I don’t have time to write about the profoundly inspirational experience I had viewing “Inscription” (by Mara Penrose and Renee Ripley), I did want to share some images I captured in my viewing. See this project was a perfect space in which to continue my thoughts around dance and architecture, initially inspired by the Forsythe project last year, and reinvigorated by my viewing of Sololos last week (see previous post): architecture as choreography, choreography as architecture, bodies/choreography directing/supporting/distributing the flow of human motion through space in a similar way that physical spaces function, and the ongoing exchange/definition of moving bodies and architecture.

“This performance involves OSU Department of Dance students: Mara Penrose, Bernice Lee, Leigh Lotocki, Lindsay Caddle-LaPointe, and Joanna Reed, as well as Tristan Seufert from the School of Music and Renee Ripley from the School of Architecture.”

[featured in these photos are Lindsay Caddle-LaPointe, Leigh Lotocki, and Mara Penrose]



Separate Panes

I compulsively suspend my “real work” to write and reflect about significant art and dance that I have seen. This morning I am aware of (almost to the point of anxiety) the stack of Labanotation projects to grade and the stack of books to read that have taken over my desk. And yet I feel compelled to give at least a little time to reflect on James Graham’s Separate Panes: An Installation and Site-Specific Dance Work that I had the opportunity to see last night.

Separate Panes constitutes the partial fulfillment of Graham’s MFA in Dance at the Ohio State University. The piece was staged (installed) in the former Sullivant Library in Sullivant Hall above and adjacent to the Department of Dance on OSU campus. Going in to the performance/installation, there were already fascinating issues at play concerning uninhabited, vacated spaces, the history of the space as a library sharing a building with dancing spaces, a building that was formerly a historical and archaeological museum. I think going in I was also interested in the choreography of the space, the traces of former movement, how that movement is or was choreographed by the architecture, and how that choreography would be reinforced/altered/activated/or resisted by the presence of this new artistic participation in the space.

At this point I would be remiss to not address the work of Nicole Bauguss in the space.

Bauguss quite simply transformed the space (less reductively, she both transformed and revealed the nature of the space in both simple and labor intensive ways), in collaboration with projected video work by Graham and lighting designer Dave Covey, with an expansive and nuanced installation in the reinhabited spaces. Materials included an intense variety of found/reclaimed materials (including window panes, doors, wooden furniture, hanging lights, an antique bath tub, tree branches, and, most notably, book pages). Bauguss artfully forged a through-line for the piece, offering material relationships between the dance material (initially occurring in separate spaces throughout the main floor of the library, and consolidating into the formerly main reception area for the finale), the video work, and the past and present condition of the space itself. Her installations were essential in formulating the atmospheric situation of the piece, and were the significant component in my perception of the work as “installation,” creating a tangible integration of the dancers into the space/architecture, and providing material structures by which the choreography of the audience’s movement in the space developed (trails of pages leading from one room to the next, bits of seeming debris serving as a kind of trail of breadcrumbs from one space to the next). In some spaces Bauguss made the space into something notably new while still referencing the history and condition of the space: in one room the viewer was met with veil upon veil of hanging paper airplanes made from former book pages, the presence of the pages seeming to reference the former library, the absence of the books/bindings seeming to reference the absence of this former use of the space, their hanging giving an almost ghostly, haunted quality to the room. In other places pages and paper airplanes were left almost like debris, drawing attention to the space, heightening my attention of my surroundings and the participation of the dancers in those surroundings. There were also little rewards in the details: not only were the various papers and pages (mostly from what seemed to be vintage dictionaries or encyclopedias) reclaimed and re-deployed in this installation, but they were altered with images printed on them: images of the dancers, of pomegranates, of other details from the space, etc. By adding her own details, she cultivated a sensitivity to the details of the space itself. Without writing a comparative essay situating Bauguss’ work, I will say that there were what I consider to be “Ann Hamilton” qualities throughout the work, specifically in the relationship of the materials to the history and current condition of the space, and the pairings of both dense collections of materials with carefully nuanced details, all creating a charged situation for performative exchange.
(you can read more about Bauguss’ process and view additional images of both her work and her documentation of the dancers in the space at her blog)

As for the dance performance aspect of the piece, I will say that I left feeling extremely overstimulated, vulnerable, and exposed, all of which might attest to the general success of the project. The dancers in the piece were: Erik Abbott-Main, Mair Culbreth (due to an injury that occurred during the Saturday matinee, Culbreth did not perform in the piece last night; Graham stepped in to dance her part), Katy Gilmore, Leigh Lotocki, and Carson Moody. There was a broad spectrum of movement quality in the work, from introspective, quiet movement that drew me into the immediate space and condition of the dancer, to intense, violent movement of bodies colliding into architectural structures and into one another. This spectrum from soft and quiet to violent collision was somewhere between kinesthetically and emotionally dismantling. It was human drama without the need for discernible narrative. Graham offers about the piece:

“Separate Panes is a site-specific work that follows five performer’s journeys through literal and figurative spaces of isolation and community. Is it an easy transition walking a solo path towards converging with someone else? In an Installation the audience is welcome to be among the art. The audience members have choices as to what they choose to look at, for how long, and in what proximity (up close or further back).”

These themes were definitely present in the movement/choreography, journeys charged with connotation and frameworks in which to construct meaning, but without heavy-handed manipulation of these structures to demand the articulation of a particular narrative. As I have mentioned throughout other posts on this blog, the work I appreciate the most act as agents of “the specificity of ambiguity.” Graham’s Separate Panes definitely operated within this paradigm for me, demonstrating itself as intensely and purely itself without needed to anchor itself to something immediately recognizable/classifiable, and as such made for an extremely rewarding experience. I had strong resonant/empathetic responses to so much of the work, specifically the proxemics of separation and collision (between body and structure, and body with body), and the unmediated nature of violent impact. I have attempted to articulate this aesthetic predilection of mine before, this fascination with the violent impact of bodies. It came up in the violence of my “I Like It Rough” solo in CoCo Loupe’s click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit, and comes up constantly in the pairings and partnering in “Autumn Quartet.” I have expressed it before as a concern with the irreversibility of the action, and in its irreversibility, its “authenticity.”  Last night I kept thinking of the words “the unmediated nature of impact.” It is of course not entirely unmediated: the structures (columns, walls, windows, floor) interrupt and intervene in the trajectory of the body. But it is something about the body’s impact, the effect of the impact on the body . . . the risk of putting more energy into movement than the dancer can control, the relinquishing of control to the structure, to the space, to the other . . . setting something into motion that must be stopped by something/someone else. That is as articulate as I can be on the topic at the moment, but the persistence of this movement/way of moving throughout the piece was over-stimulating, moving, and specifically addressed my deep fascination with the implications of impact and the body. It contributed to a kind of polarity in the dancers’ relationship with the space, at moments softening into the walls as if for solace or comfort, and other time introducing this combat of collision.

[After I posted this earlier, I felt compelled to return and add in a bit more description of my experience of more specific details from my experience of the piece, especially in the roles of the performers. The demand to navigate my own path through the the piece was not a simple task; each dancer offered so much to my attention, and synthesized with their spaces to create the kind of ambiguous but incredibly specific situations/identities to which I alluded above. Sometimes the profundity of that situation was addictive and I could not pull myself away; other moments with other dancers were difficult to endure, not because of any failure on the part of the dancer, but because the atmosphere which she or he evoked was so particular and complete, it left little room for distance or escape. One such moment was very early on with Katy Gilmore in the High Street rotunda of the library. Gilmore is a captivating dancer, a remarkable technician of movement (this is a dancer with who I have regular classes), yet in this capacity these were not the qualities she brought to bear. She moved slowly, minutely along the rotunda walls, seeming to rub out the words that had been scribbled along them (the text was overwhelming, mostly phrases beginning with the words “my body is _____,” although I think there were additional quotations as well). The synthesis of her introspective, concentrated, and seemingly corrective actions with the scrawl of the text and the chill of the space provoked such a deep despair, I felt compelled to both lose myself there alongside her, or find escape into another space. I escaped to the room which Graham occupied, quietly folding paper airplanes along one wall of a vast room. In contrast, watching Abbott-Main became addictive. The compulsion and ferocity with which he struggled in his space, thrashing about on the floor, throwing his weight against columns and walls and windows, in a perfect counterpoint to moments of near stillness and a similar introspection as earlier exhibited by Gilmore, kept me inthralled. I think it also had to do with light, the warmth of the exterior light coming in through the window panes along one side of his room, the deeper orange of the lights in the next room, and a field of hanging battery-powered lanterns offered more of an invitation to exist within that space between solace and combat, in a way that the chilly light in the rotunda did not. The intensity with which Abbott-Main threw himself into his activity, punctuated with fleeting moments of near-control in which the precision and control of his training became demonstrative (fluid exchanges of weight into and out of the floor, flowing circularity from legs, up spine, out hand or head, etc.), and in contrast to moments of total retreat, was not something I easily left behind. I was also moved by the duet that unfolded between Leigh Lotocki and Carson Moody in the next room over (I say duet because that if how I wanted to view it, the tenuous possibility that there was a connection between these discrete isolated figures, the pull towards no longer being alone as each of the other dancing figure had been framed). The range of movement quality that they explored was similar, the extremes of near-stillness softening their weight into the structures of the architecture and the almost out-of-control actions of falling, flinging, reaching, etc. They eventually came to dance together, a pair, which was then added to Abbott-Main, making a trio. It became clear that Gilmore and Graham had coalesced into a duet as the five eventually made their way into the main space for the finale, the gradual movement from isolation to a society, a community, a struggle to be a tribe. It was in this large group finale that I experienced some of the most intense encounters with the dancer, particularly Graham. As I made my way into the central space, I chose to situate myself at a column on one side of the room. Shortly thereafter, Graham began interacting with this column, throwing his weight into it, struggling as if with it. The presence of struggle between the moving and the unmovable was persistent in the piece, but this was the closest I had been to it. Sitting there against the column with Graham throwing his weight into it only inches away, feeling the heat of him, the intensity of his breath, the slight reverberations of his actions in the solidity of the architecture, the way his movement stirred the air between us, I felt very close to something very sincere. I can’t speak for his experience, and I think it best to not assume the articulation/expression of the personal in the content of the presentational, but there was an honesty of action, a sincerity of a condition of struggling against the immovable, the impossible, that struggle somehow distinct from the struggle within the group itself . . . it was an intimate moment for me.]

Other themes that emerged for me between the dancing, the video work, and the installations of materials in the spaces were: an insistence on personal agency (the freedom of the viewer to move through the space as if a museum) amidst a series of structures to influence that agency (the anchoring of the dancers and videos in specific spaces, the trail of materials and light and sound from one to the other, the unfolding of the soundscore over time, etc.). This insistence on personal agency structured within the installation of the piece itself seemed to echo aspects of the “human drama” that I felt being addressed, specifically the freedom to come and go as one pleases. Even without reading specific narratives, I could not help but construct/recognize the mutability of the interpersonal relationships established in choreography, and this quality of “come and go as you please,” a kind of spatial/physical promiscuity, an ambivalence of attention, seemed to be demonstrated in the proxemics of the dancers and echoed in the insistence on “audience agency.” There was also a sense of insanity in isolation, something between cabin fever and inconsolable loneliness (I felt this most acutely in Katy Gilmore’s dancing of the rotunda space, amidst charcoal scribblings covering the walls, Erik Abbott-Main’s thrashing about the floor and walls and windows, like a caged bird, and James Graham’s almost obsessive repetition of making paper airplanes in the space already filled with hanging paper airplanes; there was a kind of insanity in the excess). I had a sense of insight into the private, personal practices of individuals left alone (this was perhaps most acute in the video of Abbott-Main alone in the bathroom, the video of Carson Moody alone in theater space, the nudity in both videos), thrown into harsh relief with the almost intrusive recognition that the “private” moments I was witnessing were not private at all, compromised by the invisible presence of the videographer and video editor. This tension of presence and absence was also persistent in my experience, of both the video work and the dancing in the space. There was a remove to the work, the dancers sometimes being incredibly close to the audience (there were moments in which I found myself only inches away from trashing, sweating, gasping bodies), but never fully acknowledging the presence of the spectator. This was echoed in the videos, the figure in the videos never directly addressing the camera/viewer. This lack of acknowledged viewership heightened the sense of privacy and almost voyeurism.

For all its intensity, the piece was not without the possibility of humor. At one point the soundscore (the soundscore for the piece was composed by Anthony Vine and was a pervasive contribution to the situation of the work) introduced a Justin Timberlake song. The dancers present (Abbott-Main, Lotocki, and Moody) moved slowly from one room to another, in an almost trance-like state of attention. The potential for humor was in the shift of the audience following them, a crowd moving slowly, as if blindly, mindlessly, to see where they would go and what would happen next, all underscored by the pop music. My connotations were mostly zombie related in that moment, watching the crowd as much if not more than I was watching the dancers, the choreographic manipulation of the spectators via the dancers and soundscore; it would not be difficult to parlay that into a fleeting commentary on the nature of popular culture.

Questions of gender came up for me throughout the piece, but most notably in the finale, in which all five dancers moved together in the large central space of the former library. There were several moments of boy/girl+boy/girl pairings, and a trio of all three men. These were not gender choices I would have expected, at which point I reminded myself that Graham was dancing the role of Mair Culbreth. Until last night’s performance, one of those girl/boy pairings was a girl/girl pair; the trio of three men was a trio of two men and a woman. And while questions of gender can’t be conflated with questions of sexuality, both came into play due to my familiarity with the dancers. The presence of gay and lesbian identities, the substitution of a gay man into the role previously danced by a lesbian woman, all created fascinating structures for the perception of individuals, pairings, and group dynamics.

Overall, I found Graham’s Separate Panes to be a great success, a moving address of spaces and human drama, richly supported and defined by its collaborative creative team of makers. It was rewarding to see work so expansive in its space and scope coming out of this department at this time.

Also, check out the nice article on Separate Panes in The Lantern.