Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Dance Review: The MacArthur Dance Project, Soldiers of the War for Balance

MacArthur Dance Project, Photography by Steven Paul The struggle for balance is one that all dancers know well.  Check out The MacArthur Dance Project and Brian Senti’s From The Margins, This, Unmentioned at The Brooklyn Lyceum to watch their struggle to win this very battle.  The gorgeous space, architectural costumes, dancers, video projection, orchestra and singers shine against an exposed brick wall and come to a screeching halt before they hit sensory overload.  Based on five poems about a young girl’s descent, prepare yourself for an evening that flings you down a rabbit hole into the deeply rich cavern of choreographer Bronwen MacArthur’s physicality and conductor Bryan Senti’s musicality.  This world pulls at your heartstrings as it emanates with melancholy, vitality, and the quest for resilience.

In the opening piece, Ambition Reveals Itself to a Small Town Girl, six dancers enter the space and stand frozen for thirty seconds as the lights begin to come up revealing highly sculptured costumes by the talented Maja Gunn.  All of a sudden, the dancers hear a starting gun, which I cannot, and I land in their world with a glorious thud.  Luxuriously cutting through the air with well-trained extremities, the dancers dissect a long phrase individually over and over again in and out of a cyclical formation. 

Meghan Frederick, a standout amongst the well-trained sextet, is lifted by partner Matthew Westerby and directly after, the pair is lifted by the remaining four dancers.  To my delight, this same phrase repeats itself communicating the company’s cohesive nature and their ability to create synergy worth recalling.  The French horn that began the piece grows as the energy increases like a tornado taking everything in its path off its axis as staccato plucked strings pulsate like a metronome.  Meanwhile two flat screened TVs delve deep into a Marilyn Monroe lipped woman literally filming down past her well filed teeth to the very depths of her physical being.

Have Something to Say?  Join iDANZ.com Today! In Ocelot Gone Missing from the Local Zoo, MacArthur enters in a black camisole dress with tuxedo ruffles partnered with the steady rhythm of a bass drum.  Soon joined by the captivating Hannah Marie Corbin and Matthew Westerby, this trio finds common ground through wildly isolated hips doing homage to "Barbie" in a parade of forced arch glory.  Corbin and Westerby find intense connectedness in their duet with magnetized arms and legs.  Macarthur’s sinewy back and precise undulations tell the story of the company’s work – calculated, practiced, and both her living philosophy and legacy.  The singers in the orchestra begin to release their breath louder and louder joined by a soulful saxophone – punctuating the exertion and honoring the artistry that paints the Marley with fleeting fossils.

MacArthur Dance Project, Photography by Katherine GulickAlter of Memory, Slowly Undressing explores the profound union of Frederick and Marcos Duran with Chelsea Retzloff wildly trapped in her own world that somehow shares the space.  In giant robes similar to hospital gowns, Frederick and Marcos Duran explore breath and physical touch finding resting points on each others bodies.  The piece finds it high point when Duran and Retzloff flank Frederick and the three erupt into rapid breaths leading them to and from standing as if moved by the same gust of wind.  The genuine connection of the Frederick Duran duo is lost on me when towards the end Duran seems to bite Frederick on the neck directly followed by shaking his fists in a menacing fashion towards the audience.  I later learn that he is supposed to be breathing on her – furthering the choreographic language founded earlier – but it seems more like Robert Pattison in Twilight than what I imagine MacArthur intended.  Throughout this piece the same girl, whose physical world we’ve entered, finds a boy in piles of leaves in the video.  This delight contrasts well with the severity of the pieces movement.

MacArthur Dance Project, Photography by Katherine GulickThe fourth piece, Celebrity, gives us just that with a trio of women in full fem-bot attire – patent leather leotards with bubble skirts, heavily cuffed wrists and puffed shoulders to boot!  With arms frozen at their sides the three repeat a footwork phrase time and time again incorporating the change of their focus to intrigue the audience. Just like moving dolls they suck me into their world and regardless of the repetitiveness I cannot stop watching – they transform into high fashion models – not necessarily conventionally beautiful but so fascinating I can barely bring my focus to MaCarthur and Takiyah Britton as they utilize all of their extremities in the making of dance.   What MacArthur and Takiyah brings is an emotional pulse to a piece otherwise rife with untouchably human abandonment.  Playing off of the "celebrity" title the girl in the video walks about a cocktail party with champagne.

To transition from Celebrity to the show’s title piece, From the Margins, This, Unmentioned, Duran and Westerby interrupt the girlfest by physically lifting them off the ground and taking them off of the Marley.  The men folk waste no time and soar into a duet covering ground quickly and beautifully.  One by one the fem-bots have transformed back into modern dancers and make their way across the beautifully lit catwalk above the orchestra.  As they slowly descend into the playing space they become rejuvenated and wildly move like a runner’s kick at the end of the marathon.  With near perfect timing the full company engages in a unison phrase ending with their collapse to the floor.  Stunning strings fade as the girl in the video sits naked on a roof in the dark.  Brilliant!

Next time you hear of MacArthur Dance Project, bring your focus to the show and watch the company with Brian Senti test the limits of what audience members can consume and see them win the war with balance.

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iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by
Eileen Elizabeth
Performance:  MacArthur Dance Project 
Venue: The Brooklyn Lyceum, Brooklyn, NY
Date: October 15, 2009
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