Pending editing and publication on the main CriticalDance site, below is my review of the August 22, 2015 performance of Live Arts Collaborative
Live Arts Collaborative
New York, New York
August 22, 2015
-- by Jerry Hochman
Sometimes new dance groups spring forth as if from nothing.
Of the contemporary dance companies I see, most either are already established, or can be labelled ‘emerging’ – although the latter grouping encompasses a broad range of performing experience. Every once in awhile, however, I have the opportunity to view a group that’s just beginning to get its performing act together. Live Arts Collaborative (“LAC”), whose production of ex nihilo I saw on Saturday at a Theaterlab, a cozy space in a rapidly redeveloping area of Manhattan, is one such group.
LAC was co-founded by recent NYU Tisch School of the Arts graduates Alexa Valentine and Kerry Kim, and ex nihilo is the group’s first production. Since the Latin phrase ex nihilo means “from nothing,” the title is appropriate on two levels: as a description of LAC’s conception, as well as, in very broad terms, of the very broad theme of the piece itself.
Although the dance, choreographed by Kim, is non-narrative, it’s not completely abstract either. By that I mean that the individual segments of the piece, standing alone, may not convey any particular meaning or story -- and to the extent it has a particular meaning, it may mean different things to different people. That being said, and with the advantage of hindsight, the broad scope of the piece is evident by the order of presentation of scenes, the progression of images on the rear stage wall that accompany Kim’s choreography, and the musical selections by MOQN and Greg Haines.
Essentially, Kim and the creative team that put ex nihilo together have as their subject the creation of life itself. As with many first efforts, there are excesses that probably could be trimmed or deleted – not the least of which is its broad subject – but there are moments that Kim and the piece’s visual media artists (MOQN and Julia Irwin) presented that are intriguing, and overall the production shows promise both with respect to its creators and its dancers.
ex nihilo begins at a very deliberate pace – perhaps a real time representation of the Cosmic Crawl that must have followed the Big Bang. The group’s five dancers (called “dance artists”) individually emerges from nothingness – the upstage right corner – and very slowly and haltingly walk, head down as if being or seeing nothing, toward downstage center accompanied by the sound of an eerie, other-worldly composition by MOQN called “Void” – which sounds much like one would expect a ‘void’ to sound, if a void had a sound. Based on how the dance progresses, it appears that at this early moment the dancers represent the building blocks of life – empty vessels on a journey to become whatever it is that they will become. But it’s also clear that although these ‘building blocks’ have a basic similarity, they’re different from each other (evidenced by the simple but individualized costumes designed by Julia Dong), with the capacity to respond differently to information they may absorb along the way.
The rest of ex nihilo takes us on that journey. Some of it appears too arcane to decipher and to diffuse to appreciate – but at other times the choreography and the context permits an educated guess as to the significance of a particular segment For example, following the opening, the dancers move their arms (sometimes in a group; sometimes individually), at times outward, as if assuring a separation between them and other particles/individuals that comprise the future molecules of life, or at times as if praying to some unknown force, or anticipating the receipt of those gifts that would eventually make them human. Later, lined horizontally upstage, their back to the audience, the dancers discretely touch or grasp their perimeters – their skin, their backs – all while their lower torsos remain relatively rigid. These images are repeated during the course of the piece as if to say that the process of self-awareness and self-discovery is a continuing one. And as the dancers are lined up, visual ‘exterior’ stimuli appear projected against the back stage wall, beginning as small squares of light that grow larger, then morph into shadows of the dancers as they become corporeal entities.
At the heart of the piece are a series of more individualized components. Eventually the individual entities sense that they are to be part of a whole (a larger life form; a molecule rather than a collection of atoms; a society?), and some don’t like the idea. Matthew James is the first to struggle to free himself from the evolving nuclear life form. He moves frenetically, almost manically, to try to escape, but the other dancers – his fellow particles – as if representing some gravitational force, rein him in, then support him by keeping him from collapsing. This visualization evolves into individual efforts to protect and comfort James, including a duet with Stanton Jacinto in which the latter befriends James and, literally, keeps him in proper position – even if that position is upside down.
As all this is happening, more images are projected against the back wall that make it appear that the action on stage is taking place within some atmosphere – shadowy cloud or dune-like images (cosmic dust?) in one of the piece’s segments are succeeded by more startling images as the piece progresses and life evolves. During the next segment, which features a vividly-danced solo by Ho-Ju Wu, a round white dot appears projected against the dark rear stage wall. As she stands facing the light, and the void, the dot grows larger until it dominates her, and then transitions into rapid-paced projections of different components of the universe. Wu seems to absorb the light, and the information and energy she obtains from it. And as she subsequently moves around the stage, the projections change from shadows or body outlines into blurry energy forces, as if Wu had jumped the boundary between being a molecular particle and, instead, became a nascent life form.
Logically, the piece should have ended at this climactic moment, when ‘life’ begins. But Kim takes it a step – actually, a duet – further, fast-forwarding the non-narrative visualization to describe the beginning of a human relationship. No longer merely energy life forces, the couple who dance together at the end, Rohan Bhargava, the first male entity to emerge from the void when the piece began, and Elise Pacicco, the first woman, appear to me as representative of the first humans – Adam and Eve prototypes. Bhargava and Pacicco lean on each other, repel each other, but willingly return to the comfort and the familiarity of the other’s presence.
At the outset, I described LAC as a ‘group’ rather than ‘dance company’ because, as evidenced by ex nihilo, the intent is to involve artists not typically considered dancers or performers in the creative and performing process. Now that Live Arts Collaborative has presented its initial effort to create something out of nothing, it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.