Saturday, November 12, 2016

Grasping at cynosures: a review of "Lenore" by Angie Smalis and Colin Gee

It shines with a brilliance we did not expect, attracting our attention. Though we can't discern shape or colour, it's impossible to look away. This is the cynosure.

It's that very experience of being-in-the-world that "Lenore" explores. It's also the experience of watching this performance unfold.

House right stands Angie Smalis, erect and precise, her focus fixed, intense. On the floor is a fan of lines converging back to Colin Gee, who is mostly static for forty minutes. During their time together, Angie will move back to him, forward again to us, left to centre-stage, and back again, constrained to a region defined by Lenore's limited experience. The two performers never touch.

House left is an arrangement of plinths. On each is an over-sized caricature of a common object: an orange, a shoe, a wig, a lock. These are lit in turn by a single spotlight.

In the air a dog barks, there's noise from some random electromagnetic process, some wind, and then, as irruption, human voices in chatter or song. The sounds are indicative but rarely prescriptive. When the wig is illuminated we might hear a busy restaurant, visual and auditory signifiers both indicating social relationships. But more often, the connection between elements remains undefined. There is plenty of space here for us to fill.

Though based on the famous poem by Gottfried Bürger, this presentation deconstructs any expectation of the Gothic. We are not allowed the comfort of a narrative, Romantic or otherwise. There is always something disruptive in play. That orange is too large, that movement is too artificial, that dog is still barking. Irritation generates life.

Angie's performance is formidable. She moves in small gestures, articulated, as though describing successive frames of a video. Dance is truth 24 times a second, to paraphrase Godard. But we should not forget the remainder of that quote: "every cut is a lie".

Here there are no blackouts, no moments of diverted attention. Instead, cuts are indicated in a continuous succession of movements. In the poem, Lenore bridges this world and the next. But she is really a shade from the opening lines, being ill-defined except in relationship to her lost William. Angie situates herself inside that character so that we can watch her process of becoming actualise, one frame at a time. Angie makes of herself something uncanny, something in between one gesture and the next, one world and the next.

Though made up of individual percepts, our perception magically integrates into a smooth flow of experience. "Lenore" is also about this process of becoming. The dance adumbrates experience.

The movements are from the chest and throat, arms outstretched and back, with trunk and legs as support. Given these constraints, there is considerable variety. At times, extension occurs well out from the centre of gravity. Gestures are explored in sonata form, theme and recapitulation. But it's more like a rehearsal, the orchestra still tuning up, a sketch for something that lies beyond reach.

Every joint follows its own logic. There is one incredible sequence where the dancer has far too many fingers, each operating with its own will. I needed to double-check my own digits. What are they doing when my attention is elsewhere?

Meanwhile, I am fascinated by that fan of lines. Does it indicate a forced perspective? The over-sized props might suggest this reading. Is this a critique of ocular perspective, of staging? Or, do the lines represent strings, connecting the protagonist back to her puppeteer? Colin plays William, both lover and death. Is this a comment on Romantic gender roles?

It's the day after Donald Trump's election. It's the day Leonard Cohen dies. Many possibilities are in play.

We were gifted a moment here, in the artificial light, a chance to colour in the outlines. We were given a portrayal of something ineffable, enacted but then taken away again, before it could fully take form. Endings come without warning.

Angie plucks cynosures from the air.

Venue: Dance Limerick, 1-2 John's Square, Limerick, Ireland
Date: 10 November 2016

Concept and performance: Angie Smalis and Colin Gee
Music: Jennifer Walshe
Stage design: Kate Hodmon
Sound and video design: Colin Gee
Lighting design: Gearóid o'hAllmhuráin
Costume design: Angie Smalis and Colin Gee

Angie and I collaborated on the screendance "Boundary Conditions" in 2014.


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