collaboration: Bebe Miller Company.
Pillow, Becket, Mass., Aug. 26
In the final performance of the 75th anniversary season of
Jacob’s Pillow, the Bebe Miller Company removed the barrier
between audience and performer with Landing/Place,
a multimedia playground of human interaction.
Miller’s latest dance work reflects on the overwhelming disorientation
and surprising hospitality one can find in unfamiliar territories.
When redefining one’s place, not only do physical maps become
irrelevant, but one’s inner landscape becomes altered. However,
despite any temporary loss of roots, Miller’s own words are
heard declaring that “a kind of placeness is out there.”
The choreography is based on improvisation, with active collaboration
among the company’s six dancers, each revealing distinct qualities
and messages. Kathleen Hermesdorf harnesses a fierce athletic
stability, while Angie Hauser is more chatty and exuberant.
Kathleen Fisher offers a meditative inner reserve, working
lower to the ground. The two male dancers represent a generational
divide, with Darrell Jones bringing the youthful attack of
street funk, while Keith Thompson rests into the role of storyteller
through vivid facial expressions.
The diversity in personalities is unified by a visible compassion
among the dancers. The entire piece is delightfully conversational—peering
at one another through lifted elbows and rebounding off of
each other’s chests, shoulders and hips. The dancers deliberately
acknowledge each other, relying on one another for recognition
in a manner that is disarmingly informal.
The cacophony of movement is grounded by a steady stream of
electronic sounds that composer Albert Mathias derives from
his steel lap guitar, digital drum kit, and Mac computer.
Seated in the front left corner of the stage, Mathias makes
fluid transitions between techno beats, distorted vocals,
ethereal guitar melodies and progressive drum sequences.
The digital animation of Vita Berezina-Blackburn brings an
added layer to this technologically sophisticated piece. As
faculty members at Ohio State University, both Berezina-Blackburn
and Bebe Miller have access to the acclaimed Advanced Center
for Computing in the Arts and Design (ACCAD) and its motion-capture
technology. Used in today’s epic fantasy films, this form
of media makes it possible capture the outlines of moving
bodies and fill in the space with new images, in this case
billowing clouds, village houses and birds in flight. At times
the initial outline is all that is projected, revealing a
constellation of dots cascading through space.
Video designer Maya Ciarrocchi adds images of travel and displacement
on the large backdrop and a smaller screen downstage—an endless
road with passing traffic, a reckless flood or a damaging
earthquake. These scenes redirect viewers’ attention to the
unpredictable realities that disrupt our daily lives and the
As the piece progresses, one becomes lost in ambient electronic
tones and the dim green shadows of lighting designer Michael
Mazzola. The movement seems less remarkable, possibly because
it is so recognizable, so pedestrian. However, it is instructive
to see such familiar exchanges reflected on stage in a performance
setting. What is alive in the seemingly arbitrary and improvised
movement is mindful intent. Precise spatial awareness is necessary
in order to coordinate flailing limbs and torsos. This consciousness
is in contrast to the detached execution of our own daily
walking, reaching, dodging . . . tripping.
Just as one yearns for something less commonplace, Mathias
rises from his digital den and lip synchs a Verdi aria toward
the onlooking dancers. More surprises tumble outward, like
the tray of lemons uneasily carried by Angie Hauser, which
spill out unto the empty stage. Hauser proceeds to hand-pick
each fruit from the ground in a peaceful ordering of events,
later violently slicing a select few to offer the dancers.
A delightful scene ensues with the entire company stoically
sucking the juices from their ripe lemons, their lower bodies
jittering incessantly. The air is filled with the smell of
fresh citrus, enlivening one’s senses to the present moment.
Not to be forgotten is the bird house—the small wooden dwelling
ignored in the middle of the stage and later heaved forward
by the ensemble as if deeply rooted in the earth. The detached
interplay with this symbolic object serves as a reminder of
the enduring presence of home even during our most distant
travels and inner journeys. While one may continue to search
for that connection, Landing/Place makes our own conceptions
of home and belonging more accessible.