Friday, May 25, 2007
Studio 3, UCSD

The publication for which I write, SanDiego.com, has a policy that critics are not to review student work coming out of the universities. The reasoning is that students are experimenting with their aesthetic, working out ideas, and trying on styles and it is not the place of critics to interrupt this process and shoot down an emerging choreographer. The university or college is charged with cultivating artists and reviewers step in only when these students leave the comfort of school and present their work to the public as professional dance makers.

But what happens when some of the work coming out of the university is some of the most interesting stuff happening in town? Well, such is the case with Rebecca Bruno.

Bruno, a fourth year Dance Major at UCSD, has been making a strong impression on the faculty for years, winning a department award for choreography in 2005. After a year abroad at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance in Israel, she returned to UCSD and has been busy creating work, most recently collaborating with graduate student Moriah Evans on The Possibility of an Island in April. YouSeeYou, performed May 25 and 26 at the Molli and Arthur Wagner Dance Building on the UCSD campus, is Bruno’s first solo presentation of an evening-length work. And the results were remarkable.

Rejecting the traditional bleacher seats that cut the studio space in half, a long row of benches was set up in a slight curve that allowed the audience an intimate perspective of the work. Rather than looking down on the dancing, the set-up facilitated a more casual relationship and encouraged a participatory role, which was cleverly highlighted at the conclusion of the evening.

Darkness encompassed the studio at the start of the work with projections catching body parts and illuminating silhouettes. The darkness gave way to light, which found dancer Dana Lossing alone in the space. Her solo, “A Far Way” drew from aspects of her solo in The Possibility of an Island, but was gentler and less violent. It still maintained the focus and intensity, however, that made it an engaging work.

Bruno’s own solo, called “thought i might stay” featured beautiful music by Tobias Hume and was filled with large graceful gestures, quirky moments such as the biting of fingers, and long gazes at the audience. A recurring motif was the pointing of the index finger, which sometimes felt accusatory, other times triumphant. Bruno’s simple one-sheet program points out her interest in investigating personal movement vocabularies and it’s clear in these solos as well as the duet and trio to come that each draws significantly from the dancer’s own style and thus each felt unique and organic.

Bruno was joined by Lossing and Carrie Prince in a fascinating trio, “Flock” that explored the shifting dynamics of a group. Fluctuating between inclusive and exclusive, the trio moved from individual interpretations of a phrase to unison execution of the sharp, angular arm gestures. Here, Bruno revisited parts of her 2005 work Liminal X but rather than merely recycling the material, she re-worked it and re-contextualized it to give it new and fresh meaning. The stylized way the woman walked around the space, head up, shoulders thrusting forward and back, seemed both an ode to the strength and power of woman as well as a comment on the way they can ignore and compete with one another.

Prince’s solo that followed the trio, “Numi ni” had a powerful presence and was perfectly partnered by the live score from Philipp Danzeisen, one of Bruno’s collaborators from The Possibility of an Island. Prince has a commanding effect when on stage. At one moment she moved so purposefully that instead of feeling like she was dancing in slow motion, it felt as if time itself had slowed down.

“Part 2” featured Kristina Kirshner and Daniel Flores in a fantastic duet of connection and disconnection between two people. Here, the small studio was mined for its full potential as Kirchner and Flores pulled back the black curtain to reveal the mirror covering the back wall. They smacked the mirror, threw each other against it, and ran their hands across the glass leaving grease marks to accompany those already in place. Their bodies were doubled in the reflection giving the illusion at times that this duet was in fact a quartet. And throughout, the audience was reflected in the mirror as well so that as we were watching the performance we were also watching ourselves watching the performances.

Complimenting the strong dancing was, as mentioned earlier, fantastic live sound from Danzeisen that was at once violent, eerie, foreboding, and energizing. Effective lighting by Eldridge Alcantara was as fluid and inspired as the dancers themselves.

The five dancers were all featured in The Possibility of an Island and their cohesion was evident. Their familiarity with each other and the material gave the performance a depth and a level of experience that is rare in a town where work is shown for one weekend only and dancers often have little time to grow into the choreography.

YouSeeYou seemed to pick up where Island left off and improved on many of the previous work’s concepts. Here, the connection between the pieces was stronger and the transitions between them were effortless. For example, Kirshner and Flores made several appearances in the space before they began their duet. So by the time they initiated “Part 2”, the audience had already been introduced to their relationship and was thus able to more quickly relate to the performance.

The 50-minute evening was a string of fascinating images, intricate movement phrases, and moments of revelation. Bruno’s work was both charming and haunting, and entirely captivating. Her creative use of the space, her inclusion of live sound, and her poignant choreography resulted in an evening that successfully challenged and entertained the audience.

The conclusion of YouSeeYou perhaps best illustrates this point. At the end of “Part 2”, Flores and Kirshner simply walked away from the mirror and took a seat with the audience, facing the performance space. The audience was left to stare at its own reflection as the lights slowly faded. In this moment, Bruno forced the audience to recognize itself in the work and acknowledge its role in the performance that had just taken place. In doing so, she makes the audience a vital component of her work and expects that we will be engaged partners. It’s a heavy burden to put on an audience. Luckily for us, though, Bruno makes it a worthwhile and rewarding task.

Rebecca Bruno’s work is meticulously developed and utterly satisfying. If this is the type of work that’s coming out of the universities, San Diego has reason to celebrate and critics need not worry about interrupting the exploratory process.