their limits: Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company.
PHOTO: Gary Gold
Mae G. Banner
Sinopoli Dance Company in Spill Out
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
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.
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.