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The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company

'Light Moves'

by Carmel Morgan

February 3, 2012-- The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

Margaret Jenkins and her dance company, based in San Francisco, have been visiting the DC area a lot recently. They’ve also been busy traveling the world. In previous years, Jenkins’ company brought to the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center contemporary works with dancers from India (“A Slipping Glimpse” with the Tanusree Shankar Dance Company) and from China (“Other Suns” with the Guangdong Modern Dance Company). These collaborations were extremely successful. This year, in “Light Moves,” Jenkins’ collaborators were not dancers from overseas but media artist Naomie Kremer, poet Michael Palmer, and composer Paul Dresher for a new work co-commissioned by the Clarice Smith Center.

“Light Moves,” unfortunately, did not inspire like the two previous works with foreign dancers.
In “Light Moves,” choreography, experimental music, and video projections competed for attention. In this battle, the choreography did not always win. Instead, the live music by the Paul Dresher Ensemble was at times so loud that the elderly couple in the row in front of me covered their ears, and it frequently distracted from the dancing. Kremer’s funky morphing video animation (among other things I thought I saw blobs from a lava lamp shifting and expanding) also sometimes utterly dominated the stage, drawing my eyes away from the movement. Overall, taking in “Light Moves” was supremely challenging. My focus definitely waxed and waned.

There’s nothing wrong with having your attention scattered. Having your mind wander all over can be a fun, trippy experience. But the sustained feeling of confusion “Light Moves” imparted was not terribly pleasant. I felt disoriented by the demands of watching the choreography and the constantly changing set, while simultaneously listening to the complex music. I really appreciate experimentation and collaboration, and I admire Jenkins’ dedication to both, but “Light Moves” just didn’t light me up.

I did find moments of enjoyment, though. I liked some of the slow, stretchy movement of the dancers, which complemented the organic flux of the motion in the video animation. And when a dancer kicked his foot in anticipation of a series of clear musical beats, and then kicked in time to the pounding, that was nice, too. Early in the work, dancers repeatedly touched, engaging in an intimate sort of tag. Later they wrestled as if they were having serious spats. Arms played an important role – spinning arms swung backward, like a fast baseball windup in reverse, and straight arms lifted on a diagonal toward the ceiling reminded me of angled shadows across a sun dial. Yet overall, the chaos caused by having so many collaborators may have overwhelmed “Light Moves.

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