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A Collaborative Performance Event
April 6, 2007
Atkinson Hall Black Box Theater, UCSD

Friday night, April 6, felt depressingly dead and empty on the UCSD campus. The center of campus looked like a ghost town, and I couldn’t even find an open coffee-shop to get a cup of joe. But tucked into the Black Box theater of Atkinson Hall in the middle of the new Engineering complex, something special was about to take place. The Possibility of an Island brought a burst of energy, not just to the dark, calm university but also to the San Diego dance scene, offering a performance that was fresh and engaging. Even more impressive? It was entirely student produced.

Graduate students Moriah Evans, Veronika Bauer, and Philipp Danzeisen and undergraduate student Rebecca Bruno joined forces to create a performance event that combined visual images with unexpected sound and even more unexpected movement that sought to address ideas of structure and organization as they applied to both society as a whole as well as to the individual. The performance, a collaboration between the designers, choreographers, and performers, explored the use and abuse (or, as the program notes state, the function and dis-function) of the body.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve worked with both Evans and Bruno before, most recently with Evans last year in a piece that similarly aimed to integrate the visual and performing arts in a unique space. Thus, I experienced first hand the process by which she encourages her dancers to attempt the less obvious choice, to risk discomfort and perhaps a bit of pain, to discover a new position or sensation. The Possibility of an Island drew on these interests and developed them a bit further. Evans and Bruno seem to have tapped into an aesthetic that is unique in San Diego dance – the sacrifice of beauty in the interest of physical self-discovery and exploration. It’s not that they don’t like pretty movement – it pops up every once in a while in the form of a carefully positioned turn or delicate arm gesture – but they’re more interest in pushing the capabilities and comfort level of their dancers and their dancer’s bodies.

Working with Evans means preparing oneself to intellectualize the intention of every move. She loves to talk about the meaning and purpose of everything – and this is generally a good thing as it translates most of the time to very focused and strongly motivated phrases. However, the other side of that interest requires the dancers to tap into their inner masochist. But this, too, has its benefits.

The Black Box theater was drastically transformed from a lecture hall with high bleachers that covered 2/3 of the room to a blank palate performance space with three low rows of steps that occupied two of the four sides of the theater. As the audience wandered in and found places to sit on the crowded steps, two video screens, each facing one side of the audience, featured films depicting generic yellow post-it notes.

One displayed a wall of post-its fluttering in the wind, with several of them disappearing and re-appearing regularly. The second screen showed a woman covering a wall with the little papers row by row, then removing them as soon as she was finished with the task. The film played over and over again at varying speeds so that soon the constant wave of the pattern became hypnotic. How the films tied into the rest of the performance isn’t clear, but what they served to do was bring life, energy, and movement into the space before the show even started.

Soon the performers walked onto the stage, six of them leaning casually against a wall while Carrie Prince stood at the top of the stage, facing away from the audience, making small, careful gestures barely visible to the spectators. Immediately noticeable were the costumes: colorful creations of bunched fabrics, draping ropes, nude leotards, and arbitrary designs. Each person’s costume was completely different and original from the next, serving to separate each performer as an individual. These costumes, conceptualized by Bauer, were as much a part of the design of the show as any other element, which is something I generally don’t feel about most modern dance costumes.

Prince’s movements slowly got bigger and bigger until they took control of her body and flung her into the space. She flung her arms high, slapped her thighs, threw her head, and came to abrupt stops. It was a fierce, abandoned solo. Kristina Kirshner followed up with a similarly violent solo that began with her journey downstage towards a light source and ended with large jumps, wild spins, and self-entanglement. Donna Webb and Daniel Flores came next with a strong duet of comically awkward moments, a small humorous supporting voice-over, and some nice, effective lifts. Dana Lossing’s solo, choreographed by Bruno, was also an exercise in placing one’s self in compromising positions, as demonstrated by her frequent falls, her face-to-the-ground phrases, and the constant slapping of her bare thighs that, throughout the solo, turned her legs from white to red.

Watching the red welts develop on Lossing’s thighs was painfully felt throughout the audience, which served a valuable service. Often times, the difficulty of dance, or the effects on the body, are invisible to the audience. Here, Bruno was making them visible. She highlighted the fact that movement takes a toll on the body and that the body responds to it. By placing Lossing in a nude-colored costume and leaving her thighs uncovered, Evans was drawing attention to the body’s reaction to stimulation. It may not have been pretty, but it allowed for a type of shared experience that the audience could almost feel.

Bruno and Evans concluded the performance with a playful duet that started simply enough with sharp synchronized walks across the space and ended with frantic and prolonged head shaking (Evans), and a shower of plastic eggs. A fittingly amusing finish to a similarly engaging show.

The various design elements generally worked well together to enhance the movement taking place on stage. As previously mentioned, the costumes were impressively original. The sound was likewise a strong addition, though at times was shockingly loud (yet another example of the creators successfully translating something seen or heard into something felt). The video, however, didn’t work into the whole quite as seamlessly. Aside from the opening post-it displays, the only other time the screens were used were during the actual performance was during Lossing’s solo, where they projected Lossing performing her solo in the studio. Other than as an audio source, the double vision didn’t contribute much to the dance and only served to take eyes away from the live performance, where the real-life Lossing was far more deserving of attention. Additionally, the sole use of film during the second-to-last of the five sections made its absence even more noticeable elsewhere.

Without the accompanying program notes, it would have been extremely difficult to determine what it was all about. There wasn’t an overarching narrative, nor any discernable connection between each of the sections and the relationship between the performers was ambiguous at best. Nevertheless, the one-hour show was entirely captivating, the performers were committed, and this student-produced collaborative project introduced some strong ideas and hints at deep potential for San Diego university students.