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Rebecca Stenn Company

'Periphery' and 'Blue Print Redux'

by Elizabeth McPherson

December 7, 2007 -- Dance New Amsterdam, New York City

This performance series marked the premiere of “Periphery,” a duet for choreographer Rebecca Stenn and Eric Jackson Bradley. The dance appeared to be about a relationship in which there is a strong connection between two individuals. Although they seldom make eye contact, their sense of each other is always present. Stenn’s choreography is less about steps than moving, connecting, and disconnecting. At the end of the dance, the dancers exited in blackout, and did not return for a curtain call. I had a sense of not wanting to clap, absolutely not because of poor dancing or choreography, but something to do with the meditative atmosphere Stenn and Bradley had created, and also a sense of anticipation of what would come next. The dance ended like an ellipsis at the end of a poem.

The second dance titled “Blue Print Redux,” had been performed before, but this version was significantly cut. There were five dancers and three musicians all moving around one another on the stage. Stenn makes expert use of prerecorded text. In the beginning, the text is very direct and pedestrian, literally giving directions to someone’s apartment. In the end, the directions are surreal, and poetic. Each speaker (all performers in the dance) starts with “I am from…” following that with an array of serious, poignant, and comical words: “I am from a mother who died too soon;” “I am from a land of lakes and loons;” “I am from a family who had a cat for twenty years and never thought to name her.”

The dancers perform by themselves, in duets, and quartets, but they never seem to fully connect. Even when embracing, their hands remain open and unattached, no contact. Sometimes one dancer reaches for another only to have the other person slip right through or by them. The performers all seem adrift in a nowhere land of co-existing in isolation. The performers also seem to be perpetually “almost there,” never getting there entirely. There is a sense of frustrated intentions; situations are never brought to closure; the performers just move on to the next section. In the program notes, Stenn quotes T.S. Eliot describing how our explorations send us back to where we started. In contrast, Stenn’s dance keeps moving forward in a way, with no possibility for return. The dancers are imprisoned by their destinies.

The most striking choreography is a duet for cellist Dave Eggar and dancer Bradley. Bradley begins by knocking Eggar’s bow arm causing a sliding motion across the cello and a resultant sound. This continues with larger and more forceful gestures. Bradley begins to maneuver himself between Eggar and his instrument, and then takes the instrument, swinging it around and shoving it back at Eggar. There is something intensely disturbing about taking the instrument, like ripping off a dancer’s limb. It leaves Eggar looking exceedingly vulnerable, and used.

The accompanying sound collages, composed by Chris Liberti and Jay Weissman, have a lyrical, haunting quality that hangs on after the notes are played, much like the dancers’ movements. Stenn and Bradley are central, but the supporting cast of dancers, Faith Pilger, Trebien Pollard, and John Mario Sevilla and musicians Weissman, Eggar, and Rachel Golub bring a wealth of experience (in life and dance) to their portrayals and realizations of their roles.

At the end of “Blue Print Redux,” I had a sense again of not wanting to clap. Because the choreography is so thought-provoking, and has a quality of posing questions without answering them, the audience was left in an emotional limbo. However, when the dancers and musicians came out of their onstage isolated personas, and engaged the audience with smiles, there was an enthusiastic response, with a scattered standing ovation.

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