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Tiffany Mills Company

Mystery Suspended


by Colleen Leonardi

December 6, 2003 -- HERE Arts Center/New York

Tiffany Mills has made a name for herself as a hip, young New York choreographer; “one of the real talents of the emerging generation,” says Elizabeth Zimmer of the Village Voice . With a company in residency at HERE Arts Center in Soho, Mills presented her new work Elegy in collaboration with composer John Zorn and video director Ela Troyano. Dance, video, music, and aerial work harmonized in a world where death, mystery, flowers, and possession dwelled in a creepy cohabitation. 'Elegy' means a poem or song expressing mourning or lamentation, especially for one who is dead. Mills and company evoked that sentiment with dancing that moved beyond mere expressions of sorrow. In the artistic statement, Mills states, “What begins in the studio as abstract movement, evolves in performance as complex, emotional relationships, driven out by raw physicality,” and her new work revealed hypnotic, violent movement phrases leaving the dancers tortured and restless half the time, removed and pacified the other half.

Dancers Laura Hymers and Stephanie King opened with an aerial prelude which will continue to develop before the work tours to the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts and the Portland Institute of Contemporary Arts in 2004/05. Suspended by harnesses, Hymers and King stretched out their limbs into stillness as if caught in a moment of free fall. The image conjured notions of heaven and hell as the women’s bodies, brightly lit, slowly swiveled in the air while on the other end of the line their partners stuck close to the ground in dim lighting and maintained the ease of the suspension. Hymers and King both appeared unaffected by their flight as if they were objects, not people, occasionally performing a series of spasmodic jerks and exploring the space with their limbs.

Next, dressed in funereal-like gowns, black and gold lace capes, and button down vests, the company confronted the audience in an ordered mass before beginning a series of small, gestured movements across the stage. A duet between King and Matsuhide Nakashima revealed King as an eerie presence, which she embodied throughout the piece. She then snapped her torso forward in a quick collapse while her fingers clawed at the empty space. Nakashima moved behind her and wrapped his arms around her to keep her from dancing away from him or falling to the ground from exhaustion.

Zorn’s score crept in with a mix of electronic and organic sounds, like breathing, and the music of Tzadik. The space was voluminous with strange outbursts of noise that erupted from all corners of the theater. Video projections worked like a photographic essay with repeated images of bare feet dangling in the air, orchids, a bed hovering in black space, and the dancers’ grim, blank faces. The projections left an impression on the mind, as if they were meant to illustrate a non-linear narrative instead of creating a visual backdrop for the piece. Both elements were successful in establishing a world for the performers to inhabit.   

The piece culminated in a section with dancer Maurice Fraga singled out from the group. Like an outcast, he repeated crazed hand gestures to different corners of the stage and mouthed along with the sounds of the score before running up to the backdrop and confronting the projections, the only dancer to do so throughout the piece. The projections gained speed as they were flashed one after the other and Fraga ran frantically back and forth. Then another male dancer ran onstage and threw himself at Fraga, who caught him midair and threw him back into the wings. This sequence was performed a few times, causing one to wonder when Fraga became the more empowered of the group. Two other female dancers moved close to the audience and slowly bent backwards with their arms to the side as if in surrender to the sky. Here arrived a resolve for the group which was confirmed when the dancers collected on a diagonal with their bodies close to the ground and began crawling. King remained standing and lifted her leg while the last video projection showed a bed of sand slowly being scanned. We were left with the image of King’s leg dangling in midair before she took the first step forward towards a destination that remains as mysterious and dark as what we had witnessed on stage.

Edited by JC

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