I’ve gotten to know the shapes of Nichole Canuso and Dito Van Reigersberg’s faces very well in recent days. No, I haven’t set up a small altar to either of them (yet; it’s amazing how time runs away from you, isn’t it?), nor is either of them my screen saver. But I recently got the chance to see the much-anticipated Takes, a piece developed by Canuso and Lars Jan and performed by Canuso and Van Reigersberg in this year’s Live Arts/Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and as a result, both of their visages are seared onto my retinas, at least, for the time being.
Performed in one of the dark cavernous warehouses at 5th and Fairmount (a space leased by the Live Arts/Philadelphia Fringe Festival as a ticket office and two Live Arts performance spaces), Jan and Canuso have created an immense “gallery” of sorts, a huge hexagonal audience bank completely surrounding a large white “cube” as it is being titled. In reality this “cube” is a square veiled by four white screens, which can be opaque vehicles for projection, transparent gauze revealing Canuso and Van Reigersberg as they idle, cuddle, leap and dance around a group of wicker-looking furniture objects(presumably the work of costume/object designer Maiko Matsushima, I swear, she’s the secret mastermind behind this festival), or both at once.
The relationship between Van Reigersberg and Canuso seems to be in constant flux, in one moment they seem completely distant from each other, in another they are embracing, first lovers, than children, than rivals. The sparsely populated “set” (if that word is even relevent here) includes a birdcage filled with letters, and a small set of stairs leading nowhere. At one point Canuso causally overturns each object as Van Reigersberg tries to right them, to re-arrange, to fix. Each artist seems to be re-making the space, re-imagining the room as it relates to their bodies. Canuso especially tests the contours and boundaries of the cube itself, gently pushing her body against the material of the screens, creating bends and curves in the square. As the two dancers travel through the space the projections begin, remain, intensify and flag, ebbing and flowing to the rhythms of Mike Kiley’s sound design (and, at times, to his original pieces; Kiley is a member of The Mural and the Mint). The series of images becomes breathtaking, a kaleidoscope of ink-blot drawings, a sequence of Canuso and Van Reigersberg dancing with a thousand versions of themselves, of each other.
While Van Reigersberg is a talented physical theater artist and certainly exciting to watch, it is Canuso whose movements are truly gorgeous. There is something in her body that seems to long for ascension, for flight, there is always the sensation of upwards movement even as she is anchored to the ground. The combination of Van Reigersberg and Canuso’s bodies is a fascinating one, he lifts and spins her as easily as if she were a doll, and in some ways the piece seems to be an exploration of how these two bodies can fit into each other. In other ways the piece is an exploration of the nature of audience, as the spectators are invited to explore the 360 degree radius of the cube, to sit up close and far away, to walk, to observe the performance in whatever way they choose to do so, and therefore become a part of the performance in a sense, interacting with it like a museum piece. But if this is a piece in a museum gallery, as Canuso references in the piece she has written for the program, then it reminds one of Richard Serra’s enormous Band, or Tony Smith’s Smoke, both on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. All three of these works seem to say “There is the piece, and then there is you, and you become a part of the piece whether you want to or not, and that’s part of what makes it a piece of art”. Did anyone follow that? Man, the Live Arts Festival can get confusing, don’t you think?
When I saw this piece I couldn’t help but be reminded of the work of Niki Cousineau and Subcircle, the dance company she has with husband and co-collaborator Jorge. I’m thinking specifically her most recent piece, Only Sleeping, a work that had Niki interacting with projections of herself and of another Pig Iron member, Geoff Sobelle (is it just me, or is this kind of a trend?). I suppose that makes sense, given the fact that Nicole and Niki have collaborated on more than one occasion, and considering that at times it feels like there are approximately ten people living in the city of Philadelphia and you have met ALL of them. I’m not saying that Takes feels like a derivation of Cousineau’s work, or that Subcircle has appropriated Canuso in some way, but rather that in some respects the pieces feel like a dialog, two different interpretations of the same thing, two ways to ask the same question, one scene, two takes.
Nichole Canuso Dance Company’s Takes will run until the 18th of September as part of the Live Arts/Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Pick up tickets here.