As I traveled by car on the way to the Schnitz, merging from HW-30 to I-405 in post-rush hour traffic, in the drivers seat, making my decision to merge right, cooperating with those merging left, we navigated at high speed yet slowing down in that moment. I brought up to my passenger this highway traffic analogy in physics concerning the merging of particles in space, where you find nebulae and the spiral arms of our own galaxy as merging particles in lanes of traffic guided by gravitational forces. The analogy came up in mind again appropriately in this piece entitled 2 One Another by Sydney Dance Company.
With an LED background—a spectacle and technology to its own—that feeling of space and particles come naturally. It’s hard to see those bright lights against darkness and not feel like you’re watching a performance on a spaceship.
I tried to calculate on a whim what the resolution of that screen is. I figured it’s like having a widescreen LED television, but first degrading the resolution by 90% before blowing it up to a huge size, thereby revealing individual pixels—or particles. This means only abstract forms can be created. A lot of matrix lines, scattering stars, and colorful bursts shed light upon the music. The technical design of Benjamin Cisterne is unique, probably very expensive, and can accentuate the music in perfect timing with a range of color. You are susceptible to forgetting that the dance is complete and could even do without this amazing spectacle.
This is a musical, scored by Nick Wales and to think of it that way helps understand the scenery and narrative. Unlike common musicals, the narrative may not relate to individual people, despite the title. Indeed, personality has been virtually removed from these dancers. They almost embody physical laws, really timed strictly and unemotionally to the whole, with utter seriousness and intent. They have earned respect for their physicality and athleticism alone.
But the purpose of dance is to touch you. To remind you of your humanity, imperfection, the things that relate you to others. When that is sterilized, and not censored just stripped from personality, then it needs the audio and visual component to help express, and what comes out it is superhuman.
With sonic density, the large company assembles to the stage, almost jamming it full, each apparently to their own steps. But suddenly, they join together in unison and cooperate on a very precise step. Like the pixels of the screen, they flow concurrently, in response, in harmony, but as unique radicals to their own. What became important from where I was sitting: the whole. Under the artistic Direction of Rafael Bonachela, stimulated by texts by Samuel Webster these various talents have come to a powerful head with a consistent piece, tied together by Tony Assness.
Without a personal narrative, I felt that I was observing a creation story. The events are staged and related to in apparently three acts, and if I had to guess, it would be the swirling of life energy in collision, in to reproduction.
There is a shift when the color red is introduced. A red shift in physics is when an object observed—such as a galaxy—is receding, or traveling away from the observer. In this musical, it is when the essence of life is introduced. While they previously danced like particles in the universe, there is increasingly more personality, especially as they line up in a row and look for the first time at the audience, moreover causing rampant self-awareness in the room. And what is life and self other than something that is constantly receding from the observer?
How the narrative expands to the point of creation is akin to giving away the ending of a film. But indeed, it comes down to the building blocks: male principle and female principle. And we know that out of those traffic jams, those spiral arms of the galaxy, stars appear in clusters from those building blocks of life, but eventually they supernova providing the energy for another generation.
My view from my seat was a head and the wife of that head with curly big hair. It’s strange how they were taller than me until they stood up. Within the first moments of it all, I saw them startled by the dramatic flash of LED light in tandem with leaping dancers and sonic bursts. Meanwhile, I’m leaning half my body over the aisle to get a view.
People can distract and block important views, fragmenting the message, causing the mind to wander because it cannot stay affixed to true ideas revealing themselves before the observer. But just as the mind wanders a drift, a focal point usually comes. And in this case, it would usually come back to one or two dancers with a light pattern highlighting their bodies.
When a single body holds still against the back light, there is an ethereal sort of glow around them. It is unique from standard stage lighting; the LED offers a crisp line that immediately radiates out, reflecting off surfaces brightly without a feeling of warmth—like cold stillness. The hot streaming photons of incandescent lighting are just different, livelier.
As the mind drifted, I thought a lot about how to put this show next to a band like Radiohead at a festival. Perhaps that thought arose because the music often quotes from the album Amnesiac. I definitely heard at least one passage from the song “Knives Out” while still other tributes were subtler. In the program, Sydney Dance Company expresses that it seeks new audiences for contemporary dance and I think that 2 One Another has massive appeal. If shown to a general audience, such as an electronic music audience, it could be well received anywhere in the world that such exposure is available. Sadly, this was a one-off event and Portland audiences will just have to wait or watch a video.
White Bird Dance is a Portland-based non-profit contemporary dance presenting company, bringing events like this from all over the world, often. More information about their programming and how to support it can be found at www.whitebird.org. They participate in Arts for All and I urge anyone with an EBT card to fill those seats by purchasing multiple tickets for friends or family.