Reviewed by Adrienne Totino
Last weekend, the creative duo, slowdanger, opened a 5-week performance series at the Wood Street Galleries. The series’ aim is to bring “up and coming local artists” to the third floor of the gallery, in unique and intimate performances.
Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight (the slowdanger artists) fit that description in terms of their individuality. However, they are no longer newcomers on the scene. As the Pittsburgh Brazzy Award winners for the 2014-2015 dance season, they are local favorites rooted in the experimental genre.
Memory 4: STATIC is currently a work-in-progress that will be performed in full next June as part of the New Hazlett Theater’s CSA program. Audience members got a sneak-peak into the early stages of their creative process at Wood Street.
In addition to the movement, visual artist, Celeste Neuhaus, provided the set design. Mike Cooper and Mario Ashkar also created film and visual elements. Slowdanger has been interested in the idea of memory for a long time. In this fourth investigation into that theme, they delved into “static” memories (the ones we hold onto) that inform our present.
Right away, the dancers played with the idea of fixed memories. They began facing the back, slowly revealing smart phones and humorously posing for “selfies.” Knight scrolled through his Instagram feed and posted photos. Thompson appeared to be making a kissing face at her phone. Their purposeful lack of communication with each other showed the loneliness of social networking.
Eventually they stood. Sheer fabric was draped over their faces, obscuring their features. With a few simple gestures, they dropped their phones, keys, and wallets into the middle, bowl-shaped sculpture. And then they took off, performing a traveling phrase with quick jumps, cheeky shoulder-shimmies, and big extensions. The section was satisfying after a slow opening.
Another pleasurable part came when the performers lay next to a larger, more geometric sculpture. Thompson fell into Knight’s lap for a moment of stillness. They then took turns in supportive roles, mimicking the visual art with the sculptural shapes of their bodies. That led into a brief but gratifying floor-phrase. The dancers sat in fourth position, then moved from their hands to their feet to their hips once again, reminding the audience of their physical precision and grace.
The piece continued with the dancers underneath the third piece of art, a feathery hanging work that brought to mind a dream catcher. One at a time, they gestured, spoke, and sang, lighting each other with LED headlamps. Knight spoke in a hushed, almost inaudible tone; Thompson sang lightly, but crescendoed with eerie lyrics. Both appeared to be lost in memory.
To end, the dancers exited the stage, but their images were projected on the back wall. In the video created by Mike Cooper, Thompson and Knight moved with the same physicality we saw earlier in the evening. Cooper played with the size of their images, and projected their bodies in multiple imprints. The result suited the nostalgic style of the choreography.
Thompson and Knight continue to present work considered challenging to a traditional audience. In Memory 4: STATIC, the lack of narrative, unusual costuming, and moments of pedestrian movement allowed the audience to come up with their own ideas. One must be imaginative and willing to let go to enjoy this type of art.
As a work-in-progress, the piece has yet to be fully developed. But in the past, slowdanger has presented many interesting, completed performances. They excel when they use multiple dynamics to break up the hypnotic feel of their choreography which is soothing but can become repetitive. Within that calming style, there is room for moments of higher energy, both in movement and sound.
Check the Wood Street Galleries website for information on the next four performances: http://woodstreetgalleries.org/portfolio-view/5-performances-movement-series-overview/.