February 15, 2017
Secondary Dominance has a sense of eternity. Pre-show activities continue under the curtain speech from the directors of the Prototype Festival, and at HERE Arts Center, we sit very close to the cast of musicians, actors, and dancers who look through and beyond us. It has a will to exist, emanating like a subconscious mind, always at work. The difference is, while the subconscious maintains elusiveness, Sarah Small’s multimedia concert presents this continuity with explosive presence, working with figures from her own dreams to explore the relationships between creator, creations, and their audience.
Composer and lyricist Small embodies Jessica Brainstorm, a ringmaster who integrates herself fully in what she sets in motion. Her perch is a small keyboard adorned with flowers, centered among her creation: a small ensemble of musicians, four dancers, an older couple, and a mysterious figure, crouched in an alcove for over half the work. Her role is clearly defined, but it does not stop her from executing her own softer version of Vanessa Walters’ choreography set on four technically crisp ballet dancers. She manipulates those in the space, opening and closing eyes and adjusting postures. Avoiding the distance creators often keep from their work, Small as Brainstorm throws tantrums in a strobe light, transforms her screams into chipmunk harmony, and viciously chomps on a stick of celery.
The music is an eclectic blend of Balkan, Indian, and 90’s industrial rock. Set to it are severe dances by bodies extrapolated from 80’s workout videos – high ponytails, pink leotards, and legwarmers. The choreography satisfyingly comes across as exercise over dance, even using a barre for a number. Like Brainstorm, when not in the forefront, they futz with the space. Subverting their glamorous neutral, they contort their faces like short-circuiting fembots. Unified in appearance, the program delineates them with individual names, seeking uniqueness in uniformity.
Stuck between these antics are a very unremarkable man and woman, who sit, stand, and roam, blank-faced. They are either unaware or wholly accustomed to their intense surroundings. They sit and watch, pleasantly engaged while a projection on the wall shows the exact same thing, once removed. They are forced into physical situations, yet their lack of agency contains something powerful enough to provoke Brainstorm to recreate their experience on her own scale.
In doing so, Brainstorm awakes the crouched figure – director Wade McCollum (conceptually uncredited), powdered white – a mammoth and immaculately masculine frame with feminine softness in physicality and gaze. The Stranger is a gentle giant who tenderly perceives the space around him. At the same time he seems problematic – light functions weirdly around him. Patterns projected on him are left behind on walls in his silhouette.
An anachronistically chipper cha-cha finds the entire cast in unison, begging the question of how these entities relate. A pecking order seems to exist between the very mortal couple, demigod ballerinas, and deified Brainstorm and Stranger, however, Brainstorm seems to be after something in her mortal subjects. The displays she puts before them have the intent of shocking, but, to her dismay, they continually look pleased. She additionally uses The Stranger to recreate the couple’s natural dispositions in a desperate need for intimacy. Brainstorm, despite her status, is powerless solely on her own terms.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews