by Martha Sherman
The sense and feel of nature live in Jennifer Monson’s movement, but clamor through her choreography. Her company, iLAND, is devoted to exploring the relationship between dance and the environment, and in her newest work, “bend the even,” she and her dancing partner Mauriah Kraker offered a storm, not just of dance but of sound, light, and energy.
Monson’s investigations have long been based in nature. Her award winning five-year project “BIRD BRAIN” was a reflection on the mysteries of migration and movement. The dance movement she crafted was aligned to transform her into a creature fluid and avian. All of that has been brought to “bend the even,” where her “bird brain” still functions in mysterious movement. Here, though, Monson has engaged a bigger pattern, from gentle winds to tempests, blown in with a powerful score by Zeena Parkins and Jeff Kolar, and dramatic lighting by Elliott Cennetoglu. The simple, white-walled Chocolate Factory space was hung with a white drape at the back. Both dancers were blown, but not disempowered. Nature embraced them, and they embraced her back.
As the audience entered and settled, a tangle of body limbs lay in the dark, upstage, with one bright bulb lighting a visual path to their toes and outstretched hands. Monson and Kraker lay quietly atop each other. As delicate lights began to rise, a powerful throbbing sound – Waves? Wind? – filled the room. The dancers’ limbs began to move; it was almost reptilian, even sensual. As the light warmed, creatures emerged: the dancers’ stretching legs, crooking knees and elbows. They unfolded and refolded leisurely with an unearthly quality, and Parkins plucked low reverberating notes on a harp.
Monson is a magnetizing performer. She stretched out a leg in a long lunge, then squatted and brought her parallel arms crookedly in, before stretching one elbow high above her shoulder. Her stretch into this world was a modern version of Genesis: this is how things must have once begun. Kraker was a fully engaged partner; when the dancers connected they hooked their limbs, knees, ankles, not to find a balance, but simply to intersect over and over. As Kraker bent and was lightly balanced on Monson’s thigh, they were poised to fly. When they moved, sometimes their vocalizations added to the score: an exhalation, a soft cry, a moan.
The two women were equally powerful in parallel movement – leaps, leans, twisted shoulders and a race downstage – as they were when they were motionless, a pair of breathing statues. In one tableau, they faced each other, their profiles creating the shape of a classical vase, still and graceful. When their movement took them to the floor their legs created a puzzle of shapes, or curled with their backs toward the audience, as if unaware – and unconcerned – that they were being watched.
The dancers were not alone onstage; all the contributing artists were visible: Kolar at his table stage right, managing the pounding of the storm as well as the gentler nature sounds that colored the piece; Cennetoglu managing the shifting lights, at a table stage left. There were no secrets, all of the magic happened right in front of us. Or next to us. Early on, a strange scratching sound came from the side of the second row where I was sitting. At the end of the row, Parkins was scraping at her harp, which took up the last three seats. Parkins used the instrument in both melodic and percussive ways, and migrated back and forth across stage in front of the dancers to play a small electronic board, continually shifting the sound that surrounded the dancers and the audience.
The thunder crashed, the harp cried out, and dancers swooped as the lights sank to grays and blues. The darker it became onstage, the more contorted the dancers’ connections. Their dark silhouettes against the now-pale-blue background seemed to swim through what was left of the light. What started as colors of dawn, became those of dusk. Thunderous sounds receded, and the harp played softly, like wind, as the dancers drifted off stage, and the sky – that lit drape, transformed – faded to black, the ending of a day well-spent.
Copyright ©2018 by Martha Sherman
“bend the even” – Jennifer Monson
The Chocolate Factory
Long Island City, New York
February 20, 2018
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