Split Bill: Day Helesic's SURGE <font size=2>by Tonya Lockyer</font> Mar 30, 2007
by Tania Kupczak
Out of the darkness comes the electric sound of static buzz. The lights slowly fade up on three women, dressed in variations of grey, moving in unison. The dancers face us, repeating a simple walking pattern—urgent but moving nowhere. It is as if they are caught inside the limitations of space and their shared obsessive task. Gradually they add to their repeating steps a skyward gesture of the arm. Over the next thirty minutes, we will see this gesture again and again—an almost desperate grasping upward. At other times during this physically charged trio, the dancers are repeatedly pulled into the ground, diligently rising to their feet again.
SURGE could simply be a well-crafted exercise in structure, but at times the choreographer introduces movements and relationships that suggest inner life and character. In one scene, two women compete for the audience's attention. The women push each other away, dance over and around each other, in a contest to be "front and center." They laugh, and so does the audience. In another, huge shadows of spinning wheels are projected onto the walls of the theater, while a duo dances in unison to the noise of an oncoming locomotive. Throughout SURGE the dancers reach, fall, walk, open, close, continue—inside of dance phrases that are well constructed yet never seem to surprise. Their faces occasionally show the intensity of deeply felt states, but the only context is usually the reality of the physical work of grasping and falling, rising and carrying on. Perhaps this is enough. Occasionally the dancers thrust and extend their legs like kick boxers and my thoughts fade to kung-fu movies with female heroines. The dancers are heroic in their stamina and skill. These are hard working, gorgeous dancers. But as the final section begins with another accumulation of repeating motifs, one gets the sense that nothing has changed or been illuminated. Perhaps this is the point. As the dance nears its conclusion, the unison trio returns. The dancers move forward and back in three tidy columns between the audience and glaring white neon lights. As their movements build in speed, their well-oiled bodies seem caught inside the noise of a machine. Then, for a brief moment they stand and look at us, before running into the white light. I couldn't help but think that I saw it coming.
Split Bill's can be difficult for choreographers. It's easy for the audience to start comparing the two dances. The first dance risks being forgotten by the end of the evening, or looking simply like an "opener." The second piece has to stake a claim in your consciousness while performance #1 is still dancing around in your head. Crystal Pite/ Kidd Pivot: "Farther Out" was definately resonant, and mult-dimensional enough to almost banish SURGE from my memory.
The curtains slowly open on a white floor flooded with purple light. An old black typewriter is suspended from the ceiling. It hovers at head-height, heavy, archaic, floating. We wait. Then Crystal Pite and Cori Caulfield enter, place a piece of paper in the typewriter and exit. As the typewriter rises, the voice of author Annie Dillard is heard. Dillard's recorded voice speaks periodically throughout "Further Out." Dillard's voice illuminates the creative act of exploring the unknown. Pite and Caulfield are also explorers. Dressed in white, with a clear plastic sphere over her head, Pite is reminiscent of an astronaut. Caulfield, dressed in black, often bent over as if on all fours, has an animal curiosity reminiscent of Kubrick's 2001. When Dillard speaks of a "fascinating technical problem" Pite begins to articulate her body in a series of isolated initiations, that are later mirrored by Caulfield prowling upstage. Pite's movement and choreography is clear, legibile and eloquent. Every inch of Pite and Caulfield's bodies seem in service of the subtle pulls and countertensions of their movement. They dance from the top of their heads to their perfectly articulated little toes. The power Helesic sought in big athletic motion, Pite often finds in stillness. Hers is a virtuosity less reliant on the effects of obvious physical feats, than on rarified physical awareness. Pite writes in her program notes that she is drawn to "prying out the present" with her body. It is deeply satisfying to watch her pry –etching her physical questions into the space through skin, muscle and bone. At it's least interesting her movement vocabulary becomes predictable, two-dimensional and less transparent. It begins to remind me of mime. But at it's most alive, it is the body beautifully awake, able to speak itself from any starting point- ear, knee, rib, finger ”¦ It is the embodiment of movement as it's own form of "writing", having it's own logic and intelligence, signifying itself.
During one of many great moments, Dillard is heard talking about "messing around in irrational realms," so she can "bring back to culture some useful information" Pite's astronaut explorer eventually sits down at the typewriter to access her own irrational realms. I won't give it away, but let's just say that it takes her places that have the audience laughing out loud and spontaneously applauding. (P.S. Just put Brubeck, aliens, and sequins together and see what you come up with.)
In Farther Out, language and movement coexist, yet never compete or try to illustrate each other. Pite's lineage to Forsythe is obvious in her physical vocabulary, yet her intelligence, imagination and humor are clearly her own.