The Setup: On October 18 and 19, Chapman Dance filled The Barn to capacity for two evenings of vibrant and mesmerizing dance. Shifting Spaces featured three dances by Teresa Chapman in collaboration with visual artist Lucinda Cobley. The Execution: Cobley's art, which is composed of repeated geometric shapes, is not only a backdrop, but sets the mood for Exquisite Corpse; a blue silkscreen on the left evokes a ravaged urban landscape while a pink silksreen on the right suggests crowded tenement buildings and claustrophobic subways. From this severe imagery - perhaps a scene from an atomic aftermath - emerges figures that are either bodies possessed or fleeting spirits. They pulse and their limbs break from the core. Jagged shapes are linked to curvaceous spirals and stretched knees are attached to flexed feet. There are moments when their mouths are wrenched open in silent screams. Exquisite Corpse is beautiful in its conjuring of horror.
Corpse is profound in that it asks a lot from its audience. There are moments when the stage is filled with six bodies, at times in unison, but more frequently not. In key sequence I counted four points of focus - two duets and two solos. The dance forces the audience to choose a viewing lens: either pick a focal point or take it all in at once. I chose the latter and was rewarded handsomely for it. Rather than run contrary to one another, the simultaneous movement create a layered choreography that dazzles.
Inflated Duet explores themes of contemporary feminine identity and does so in comedic and clever fashion. Dressed in knee-length hoop shirts printed with Cobley's industrial patterns, the dancers move through exaggerated poses of 1950s feminine domesticity. They invite the audience into their carefully manicured world with coy suggestive smiles and flirtatious shimmying. But the movement vocabulary of this dance suggests that these Stepford wives are on the cusp of rebellion. They choke, their backs flex in exhaustion, and they gab with one other before taking passive-aggressive jabs at the closest body. In an eerie moment, the quartet rises from a deep squat and gazes out into the audience with faux serenity. It's funny how scary the reality etched from invisible constructs can be.
The majestic quality of Sequences is made manifest from its first moments as the dancers enter the stage not from the wings, but from the side aisle. The hooped costumes are floor-length this time, and Cobley's color combinations are of a more earthy variety. In single-file, the quartet enters with a light swaying of the hips, causing the weighted skirts to twirl beneath their waists. With their high releases and outstretched arms, and with the assistance of music by Tomorrowland, they look like extraterrestrial princesses on a pilgrimage.
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Sequences makes use of three raised podiums, which magnify the level changes of the dancers as they move from sun salutation zeniths to crouched nearness to the floor. The gaze of the dancers remains skyward and the cyclical nature of the phrases suggest a ceremony or ritual of some sort. There is a lot of movement, but there are moments when simple geometry makes a lasting impression, as when the members of the quartet turn around themselves, one arm extended upward and the other bent at the elbow.
If this is a ceremony, then it's one of atonement. But the dance's tone of beseeching forgiveness takes a drastic change in the direction of the jubilant. Each dancer takes her turn in the spotlight, and even though each solo is distinct, all four possess a playful aura of gratitude for the ability to move. The dresses take on a life of their own as they are bolstered by attitude and pencil turns, spiked to the horizontal place by arabesque shapes. They do eventually return to the sun salutation motifs of the first half of the dance, but there's no sense of loss now, only fulfillment. Whatever they were looking for, they have found it.
The six dancers of Shifting Spaces must be recognized for their artistry and craft. I don't think the evening would have been quite as magical without Catalina Alexandra, Lauren Cohen, Roberta Paixao Cortes, Kristen Frankiewicz, Mallory Horn and Brit Wallis.
The Verdict: I was not sure what to expect from a collaboration effort that marries a locomotive performing art with a stationary visual art. But rather than feel forced, or have the weight of academic exercise, Shifting Spaces has the exuberance and life of a wholly organic project. The dances were thoughtful, meditative, spiritual even, but were balanced by an underlying wit and visual hijinks that felt unconditionally celebratory. I can't speak for the rest of the audience, but I feel these dances, especially Exquisite Corpse and Sequences, are meant to be stored away and treasured. I'm going to remember them for quite some time.