Posted by: strugglesome | February 27, 2011

Oh Say Can You See: The Blindspot Festival Presents PIMA Group, Moving Parts/meg foley and Troy Herion

The all-knowing all-powerful Wikipedia defines a blind spot as an obscuration of the visual field, which is a rather ironic title to give a performance event. Unless, of course, you consider the concept of performance being a form that sheds light on that which is typically outside of our range of vision. And in that sense it’s perfectly logical that Anna Drozdowski and Dustin Hurt, co-creators of this concentration of works drawing attention to collaborations and combinations not typically seen in the world of performance, would title this festival “Blindspot” in an effort to reference that which is often overlooked, or completely invisible, to the average viewer. And so together Hurt, director of Bowerbird, a non-profit organization which presents musical performances, and Drozdowksi,  who is active with the Philadelphia dance scene, have curated this body of dance and organ pieces in an effort to present these works in a new and cohesive framework, one that exists as a unique and complete entity.  The curators of this festival are interested not just in creating performances, but crafting experiences, a task that is as ambitious as it is admirable. And a real challenge. Because to exert that kind of control over a person’s artistic intake takes precision, and clarity of purpose, not the easiest task in the world when combining such a large group of disparate elements and distinct performances.  Part of the issue lies in the universal dichotomy between parts and whole, and what I mean by that is that performance is a form in which we are asked to judge as a whole something we receive and experience sequentially. And part of it lies in the fact that putting together an event like this may be interesting in theory, but messy and chaotic in theory. Luckily for Blindspot this particular series may have it’s fair share of muddled moments and unevenness, but it also contains a stimulating mixture of thought-provoking and challenging work.

This particular night (it should be mentioned that each evening of the festival is designed to be distinct and unique) featured PIMA Group’s Ohhorror: redux, Moving Parts’ Match Vs. Match and musician Troy Herion along with a crowd of vocalists. While the dance pieces are performed in the Christ Church Neighborhood House, the organ pieces happen in Christ Church itself, for obvious reasons. These pieces could not have been more distinct and disassociated, and looking at each one against the others feels like trying to put together pieces of a puzzle when you don’t know what the end result is supposed to resemble. Not that that’s a bad thing, in fact, it’s a very interesting way to present performances because it demands so much of the spectator. The trick is to make sure it gives as much as it takes.

Starting the evening off was PIMA Group, a dance and music company founded by dancer-choreographer Melisa Putz and musicians Thomas Clark and Marc Zajack, with their work Ohhorror: redux. A movie-movement mash-up playing with slasher-film conventions, this work, choreographed and performed by Putz, uses a manic and frantic movement vocabulary to explore the dancer’s relationship to the Blair Witch Project style film. The problem is that all that focus on the communication between dancer and self or dancer and film leaves the audience completely out in the cold. One of the many challenges of non-narrative movement pieces is,well, the audience. Finding an entry point for the spectator becomes the most important task of the piece, because all traditional methods are denied to the viewer, leaving them struggling in the face of the artist’s self-expression. Putz’s dance is ungenerous in this respect, it makes  little effort to allow us to access the work, and we are left feeling completely distant from it. The movement isn’t without virtuoso and Putz is clearly a talented dancer,  but the piece feels rather arbitrary because we have no frame with which to look at it, and the film seems to be vacillating between intentionally bewildering and graphically aimless. There is a thin line between having too much information and not having enough, and, unfortunately, PIMA group gives us a piece with a lot going on, but no way to read it.

Moving Part’s Match vs. Match, on the other hand, is all about the information. Precise finely detailed movement is layered with long periods of silence and stillness. Using the reality of the space in its entirety, playing with the stairs at the back of the theater and the depth of the room, and working with ambient sounds, dancers and creators Gregory Holt and Michele Tantoco (Christina Zani was also a creator of this work), as well as Foley herself play with contact and dispersal, acquainting themselves with their own bodies and each other’s forms, creating sculpted passages and unified movement then dropping structure entirely. The piece itself finds a metaphor in the costume design (Patricia Dominguez) and the set design (Carmichael Janez), that is, there is a wide overlay of greyness, of quiet exploration and gentle progression, sparked with moments of color and sharpness, like the black curtained space marked with a wall of gold painted milk crates, or the grey outfits ignited with teal, fuchsia and red socks. Exploring spectatorship and observation (both of the self and of the other)seems of paramount importance in this work, and when I had the opportunity to speak with Foley after the piece she discussed her interest in self  and self-reference, and the way the boundaries of become bumped and blurred in performance. Given the significance of audience and observation within the piece, it would have been interested to see it incorporated even more directly and sooner, because while all the elements of the work are present the whole time, they aren’t all fully visible until the end, and part of me wanted more levels for more time. In a piece that is fairly long for a stand alone non-narrative dance work (it clocks in at close to 40 minutes), impatience can war with interest.

The final work, an eerie and evocative soundscape by musician Troy Herion with vocalists Alex Torra, Celeste DiNucci, Karina Kacala, John Jarboe and Mena Hanna, is a humming trance like piece that lulls the audience into a meditative state of electronically induced(courtesy of Cenk Ergun) contemplation. When I spoke with Hunt and Drozdowski they mentioned that few of the musicians involved had ever played organ before, and that I would be hearing sounds coming from the organ in a whole new way, and that certainly was the case in this performance. You may be sitting in a sanctuary when you hear it, but it could not be more divorced from a hymn if it got itself declared an infidel. And that is pretty cool.

Blindspot 2011 will have more performances this coming week from the 2nd to the 6th of March, including more music, more movement, and another showing of Subcircle’s Only Sleeping. Tickets are available here. Seeing is believing, so go, open up your visual field, see what you can find.

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