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Dance and Dreams

by Lynn Hasselbarth on August 23, 2012

Liz Gerring Dance Company
Jacob’s Pillow, Doris Duke Theatre, Becket Mass., Aug. 18

Last Saturday, while the Brazilian artists of Compagnie Käfig impressed audiences in the Ted Shawn Theater, Jacob’s Pillow’s Doris Duke Theater was home to the New York City-based Liz Gerring Dance Company, offering the dramatic and surrealist full-length work she dreams in code.

A collaborative mix of dance, mixed media and clashing instrumentals, the performance of the Liz Gerring Dance Company was a reminder of the fresh quality of chorographic vision that New York is known for. Having made its debut at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in October 2011, she dreams in code has entered a more grounded phase in which both artist and audience are invited to stretch their imagination and psychological response to the piece.

Gerring’s work created a mood of industrial and athletic energy, with phrases that were fiercely executed if somewhat impersonal. The stoic expressions of the company’s six dancers evoked a certain militaristic style, displaying a self-sufficient rather than communal exchange. Such highly structured movement was reminiscent of the experimental choreography of Merce Cunningham and his use of motion capture sensors to digitally map dancers’ movements.

The choreography was extremely weighted, often featuring lengthy on-the-ground sequences with driving lunges and upper-body balances. The dancers’ trajectory seemed to be in constant transition, arriving at distinctly unfinished lines; they entered group formations with a sense of passivity and emotional distance.

A constantly evolving trail of jarring bodies and spatial shapes seemed to challenge any notion of a specific theme or message. In fact, the overall piece was devoid of any sense of closure or punctuation, with scenes passing one to another as if in a dreamscape.

This dream-like quality was reinforced by an accompanying score of distorted electronic sounds and static reverberation. Composed by Michael J. Schumacher, the soundtrack was also layered with melodic interludes of piano and cello, as well as a female voice reflecting on various dreams and scattered memories.

The text, presented in stream-of-consciousness style, brought significant meaning and depth to the more ordered movement landscape. A steady voice described a playful winter scene where no one feels cold; at another time the voice referenced a drought causing a mango tree to lose its leaves.

Such imagery was further enhanced by video set designer Willy Le Maitre’s series of projected scenes and time-lapse photo images. An especially moving collage featured an abandoned turquoise shack whose surrounding foliage emerged from bare branches to full bloom. Other images were decidedly somber, including an abstract animation of descending oil droplets, reminiscent of a retro lava lamp. Strung throughout were snapshots of pedestrian activity and traffic, filtered through a camera lens saturated with water.

The rather solemn climate of the piece was reflected in the streamlined costume design of Deanna Berg Maclean. Form-fitting shorts and tank tops in various hues of blue and grey were smeared with shadowy streaks, resembling the accents of oil and rain in the projected media.

A visible climax arrived during a striking full-ensemble sequence, in which the six dancers suddenly synchronized their movement and direction. With more recognizable electric guitar riffs and an epic crescendo, the interlude felt hopeful and kinetically united.

Other moments were more distilled and intimate, including a sensual duet between a male and female dancer, involving delicate weight sharing and sheer entanglement. In the final scene, a solitary male stood upstage against a vacant screen, with echoes of a metronome mirroring his own heartbeat as it returned to a restful rhythm after a disorienting dream.

Despite the high-tech nature of the piece, she dreams in code seems to recall the more minimalist approaches of early modern dance. At one point, the rich musical score was overshadowed by the percussive sounds of the dancers’ limbs colliding with the stage or the high-pitched shrieks of skin rubbing across the Marley floor. It was during such moments of raw and uncluttered expression that the company’s powerful and evocative core was most revealed.