D.C. DanceWatcher

Found Among Chaos

Posted in Contemporary dance by lisatraiger on April 25, 2015

“Find Yourself Here”
Joanna Kotze, with Jonathan Allen, Zachary Fabri, Asuka Goto, Stuart Singer and Netta Yershalmy
American Dance Institute
Rockville, Md., April 24, 2015
World premiere

By Lisa Traiger

2. JKOTZE.Ayala Gazit (2)Structure amid chaos and chaos amid structure – these two precepts underlie South African-born, New York-based choreographer and dancer Joanna Kotze’s latest, “Find Yourself Here.” The world premiere, presented by American Dance Institute April 24-25, 2015, in Rockville, Md., tucked deep in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., examines space as both a performative and a static environment while drawing the audience to come to its own  conclusions about the work that rattles expectations about dance and art, collaboration and individuality, harmony and tension. The project, which draws together three dancers and three visual artists, along with a composer/sound designer, is imbued with smart, philosophical underpinnings articulated with attractively designed and executed movement sequences and art-making processes.

Upon entering ADI’s black box, the dancers and artists – who during the performance are interchangeable and, only after a second look at the program did I realize the distinction between “dancer” and “visual artist” was supposed to carry some importance, for it certainly wasn’t recognizable – are on task, laying down brightly colored linoleum tiles in right angular patterns and sequences. On the black floor the result was a pixilated riot of blues, yellows, tangerines and fuschias placed with care but at seemingly random order. As the performers gather and stack the tiles up at the back of the stage, a meditative process settles in. Into this rush of color, the performers, wearing Mary Jo Mecca’s color-drained white and gray athletic wear – a pop of hue visible only in the colorful selection of Keds – mostly blend in, save for Zachary Fabri, who clownishly skips and tiptoes through the space, breaking down that invisible wall between performer and watcher to make direct eye contact – ultimately to the delight of audience members in the first two rows.

A jogging sequence for all six their hands held paw-like in front of their chests – or perhaps it’s a post-modern parade – leads the column of dancers around in expansive patterns, their pattering feet and breath providing a living sound score, joined by the subtle and spare mixed-in sounds by Ryan Seaton. Later a duet for paper-doll-thin Kotze and fellow dancer Netta Yerushalmy has them lunging, diving, skipping and braiding through each other’s movement sequences.

What’s most intriguing in the piece, though, is the building and taking apart, the creation and destruction, of the carefully planned structures in the stage environment, which itself becomes a canvas on which the work unfurls. Smaller squares of wood and Styrofoam stand stacked in one back corner, poles covered in fluorescent glow tape rise like stripped trees along one side of the stage, and small, hand-sized colored plastic squares are lined up on the opposite side like a child’s Colorforms project. Asuka Goto wields a roll of white tape that she uses to splice the horizontality of the stage, laying it down then simply pulling it up and crumpling it in a ball. Soon all this organization, those carefully placed tiles and lines, squares and angles, colors and patterns, degrades into chaos as dancers and artists mingle and whip everything up like a cake batter gone awry in a Mixmaster.

By “Find Yourself Here’s” ending moments, the stage has gained a mass of items and objects, dancers and artists, they’re all one and the same, the neatness and the care of the early moments lost in the muddy convulsion as it all gets thrown together. And it’s a glorious mess as dancers and artists – performers, all – intermingle and stack and toss, regroup and remix the various tiles and squares, tape and sundries. Care has become chaos, and at the root of it all is the realization that we – the audience in that broken gaze across that invisible dramatic line – are them – or at least we could, in a dream sequence, be them. The metaphor becomes clear in the crazy discombobulation of it all: life is a Sisyphusian task, we spend our days pushing that bolder up the hill again and again, only for it to roll down. Then we start over. Kotze’s dance is a dance of life, vivid, chaotic, unexpected, moments of subtly and unbridled hamminess, joyful and reserved.

A 2014 Bessie winner for new choreography, Kotze, like many of the current crop of artists ADI is bringing to its Incubator Program, has borrowed inspiration from 1960s Judsonian ideas – ordinary movement as performance, task-oriented movement, game-like structures, an intermingling of multiple disciplines, a breakdown of the artist/audience relationship, and, of course, abstraction as metaphor, or not. But for Kotze, with her background and training in architecture, “Find Yourself Here” is no re-tread of 1960s ideals. The work lives in real time – and speaks to audiences today who find the charm, lively brightness and vivid beauty, and the unholy mess of their own lives in Kotze’s poetic piece.

Photo courtesy American Dance Institute
Published April 25, 2015
© 2015 Lisa Traiger