December 19, 2017
Though Liz Gerring’s Horizon (2015) is the second in a trilogy of proscenium works, it holds its own presence. Concerning simply ideas of “multiplicity,” the sizeable but intimate Joyce Theater supplies the ideal space for the work to takes its time, and for us to appropriately peer.
The already abstract concept is most identifiable in movement composition. There is no continuous phrase for one body. Dancers repeat actions, build potential energy into unfortunately brief outbursts of motion, slowly phase through shapes, maintain single shapes, and locomote peculiarly. They have but sequences – prime forms of data that, through delicate spatial and temporal arrangements, create aggregate phrases across multiple bodies to the engaged viewer.
Unison is not taken for granted. Grouped dancers will quickly de-synchronize, modify one component of their material, or break off to join other groups, achieving the aggregate effect via an emphasis on separation – whether with human pathos, or cellular inevitability. While multiplicity is certainly present, the dispersal tactics generating such multiplicity asserts itself as the true subject.
Such methodical arrangement contains notes of Cunningham, reinforced by Gerring’s use of “independent media elements.” Michael Schumacher’s score has too much time on its hands, however – a collection, not nearly as organized, of autotuned voices, aimless electronic noodling, and an occasional beat that un-ironically places the ears in a gym locker room.
More successful is Robert Wierzel’s lighting design. A Robert Wilson-esque gesture, an appropriately horizontal line of light slowly ascends the skrim, occasionally eclipsed by outstretched limbs. An added screen, angled obtusely above, creates a psychedelic tanning bed, colors periodically changing to highlight a particular dancer who might be wearing a complementary color, uncomfortably similar to Doug Varone’s ReComposed, made in the same year.
While structurally compelling, the physical material disappoints. The company touts its use of “natural gesture,” which, for Gerring, means exercises. Most of the piece’s vocabulary consists of yoga poses, neither presented to suggest exercise as physical inspiration, nor abstracted enough to organically lead our mind to ponder exercise among the requisite infinite alternate associations. In a given shape, they often reach, ostensibly to the titular horizon, though, their unmannered performance practice, albeit often how similarly abstract dance is performed, prevents such reaching from striking our imagination to care about what might be out there.
“Cause and effect” is additionally listed in how Gerring constructs physical sequences, though the choice of clinical movement over motion in a cold, sured execution makes this imperceptible. Some movements are very difficult – a backwards strut through consecutive penchés, log rolls into buoyant straddles – other times they simply walk from one wing to another. What renders the dichotomy unimpactful are the dancers’ guaranteed success in execution and their experience of movement kept unperformed. A movement vocabulary intensely contrasting ease and difficulty requires either more humanity in execution or more inventive movement to engage, as long as we’re talking proscenium.
We can’t buy into the illusion of seeing ideas collaboratively articulated across several bodies over a period of time when the movement is safely familiar, dispassionately performed, and performed by human bodies. As such, what becomes the crux of the piece is Wiertzel’s actual horizon, rightfully subjugating everything else as a participant in its neon sunrise.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews