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Testing their limits: Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company.

PHOTO: Gary Gold

Dance Structures

By Mae G. Banner

Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company in Spill Out

Skidmore College Dance Center, Sept. 29

Five dancers in green unitards the color of Luna moths lay suspended—trapped, perhaps—in a grid of blue spandex bands, five segments across, six down. Electronic music, a mix of subdued tones and distant bird calls, hovered in the Skidmore College gym known as the Dance Center. Dim blue lights cast big shadows on the side walls as, one by one, the dancers began to travel across the grid on hidden catwalks.

This was the opening of Ellen Sinopoli’s Spill Out, her newest and most tightly focused collaborative work. For 65 minutes, the audience, seated in front and behind the grid (a matter of perspective; whichever side you faced was the front), watched the dancers play out the elemental Sesame Street concepts: up and down, in and out, back and forth, near and far as they traversed the confining, but elastic structure.

The scaffolding, 40 feet high, 12 feet long and 3 feet deep, was designed by architect and former RPI professor Frances Bronet, now Dean of Architecture at the University of Oregon, with technical designer Sidney Fleisher of Troy.

Bronet and Sinopoli collaborated in 1999 on a dance/installation, Beating a Path, set up in an empty storefront on River Street in Troy and repeated in 2003 in an empty store on Jay Street, Schenectady. Beating a Path was a playground full of architectural temptations, including ladders, hammocks, and rubber-paved pathways that induced the dancers to tumble, jump, climb and swing, while the audience was invited to move around the space in their wake. The idea was to explore how movement and architectural structure influenced each other.

The artists carry that idea further in Spill Out. First, the grid is huge, dominating and defining the space. Then, the meditative sound score by William Harper, the low-key lighting design by David Yergan (quiet shifts from blue to red to multi-colored sidelights attached to the scaffolding), and the unobtrusive video by Ralph Pascucci created a floating ambience in which the rigid grid seemed to hover. It was almost a Zen experience.

The dancing, though, did not spill out. As in Sinopoli’s previous materials-based dances, the dancers were eager testers of the properties of the web of spandex bands. They slammed their backs against the elastic. They pulled the bands apart like Venetian blinds, poked their heads and torsos through the opening and swung their arms from side to side. They climbed, twisted, and spiraled in and around the tight elastic frame. But, for all their smooth, controlled gymnastics, they remained basically locked into the structure’s rigid limitations.

Pinned within the grid, the dancers had little chance to interact with each other. There were passages when two would rub their backs against each other, or when two—one facing front, the other back—would mirror each other’s movements. More variety was created by the dreamy video close-ups projected onto their bodies or by shifts of light that made black stripes across their shiny green unitards.

Spill Out sometimes reminded me of Elizabeth Streb’s high-danger dances in confined structures. But, where Streb’s athlete-dancers smash through panes of glass or crash against padded walls, Sinopoli’s dancers were more about exploring the limits of their confined space. They found that there were only so many possible moves, and, in the end, they settled for that.

All five dan cers were beautiful to watch, sleek, buff, and confident in their testing of the grid. Sarah Pingel, the tallest and sturdiest, often performed as moving anchor at the center of the construction. Claire Jacob-Zysman had a mischievous smile that conveyed what fun it must be to play in this giant-size jungle gym.

You can see how Spill Out works on a proscenium stage at 8 PM on Saturday (Oct. 7) at the University at Albany Performing Arts Center. Call 442-3997 for information and reservations.

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