February 7, 2016
Shannon Gillen’s movement language offers hope for a unison revival in contemporary dance. Gillen gets away with what many dance-makers eschew as flashy due to the improbability that her movement could be executed in perfect accord. Spirals and rebounds, like unpunctuated prose, electrify her bodies with thrashing focus along energetic tracks looping from the floor’s depths well into midair, articulated like a slow-motion film rewound in time-lapse. It similarly reimagines repetition as live instant replay of something seemingly once in a lifetime. Most simply, however, with SEPARATI, V/M V/GOR’s debut evening-length, there is so much at play that such eye anchors render the piece digestible.
Mixed media brews movement invention via poetic prop usage. In a duet whose horror is overshadowed by novelty, Jason Cianciulli fashions a voodoo doll of Lavina Vago out of a messenger bag. Vago manages to fling herself at the precise distance of Cianciulli’s bag, more rigor mortis rather than dead weight. She later solos drenched in water, so composed that it is more dangerous without the risky element. Sensing each performer’s safety and awareness uncovers performative tenderness required to depict violence. Gillen’s language is a process of continual exposure – not inventing, uncovering.
Such a process generates moments that are exploited to their fullest impactfulness. What then is tricky is linking them together. Dance-theatre has the freedom of avoiding linearity, but Gillen sends a quasi-definable narrative through a paper shredder, fashioning characters revealed through fragmented action. Instead of exposition, this dance-noir withholds context, placing us on an even playing field with unacquainted characters who profoundly affect each other without saying hello.
They each, however, have some relationship with a voice-over, just as anonymous to us as the cast. It sets violent dance breaks into motion, referring to things we don’t see. All the onstage action reads as an energetic post-hoc release to some undocumented misfortune.
Experiencing someone sans history is an incredibly present encounter, but the piece falls back on trickery. Gillen’s daredevil dancers flip into and away from each other. Floating telephones dazzle, but fail to construct anything concrete in lieu of nothing concrete to point to.
Among such technical might is comparatively weak acting. Against amplified voice-overs in the cavernous Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center, speech doesn’t carry. Stage presence fizzles when pedestrian. Lacking the “naps” of stage combat, a bloody fight between Martin Durov and Cianciulli is untrustworthy.
SEPARATI’s pitfalls come from its frame. The former St. Anne’s Warehouse, spatially tantalizing to any dancer, sucks life out of Gillen’s work, spatially unclear with the slightest wiggle room. Emotional tug loses grip when we are not stationed like a child to a television screen. The safety we pick up on when witnessing Gillen’s work is important to understand but devastating to experience.
While “anonymous companionship” is a risky exploration, an incomplete journey is not necessarily aimless. Inter-momentary gaps outline intimacy in anonymity - the freedom felt when associating with a stranger. SEPARATI highlights the permanent ties to those we may only meet once.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Jonathan Matthews