“A Number of Small Black and White Dances”
Aynsley Vandenbroucke Movement Group
Dance New Amsterdam (DNA)
New York, NY
December 10, 2009
by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2009 by Leigh Witchel
Telling moments of perception leisurely unfolded during Aynsley Vandenbroucke’s “A Number of Small Black and White Dances.” It felt like reading Edith Wharton or Henry James; it’s a pleasure to see that level of perspicacity in an artist. The tradeoff is that we’re not reading a book; we’re watching a performance and that doesn’t always work.
Vandenbroucke accurately calls her company a Movement Group. With her husband, she also founded and runs Mount Tremper Arts in upstate New York. Her work involves dance, but it’s more concerned with physical theater. Vandenbroucke is as fascinated with words – and the paper they are written on, as movement. Words were printed on paper, hung on a cord strung across the stage like a clothesline and shifted around like laundry. Paper stacks formed enclosures and pathways. Towards the end, the opening of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was projected on the back wall.
The work began with dancers self-illuminated with flashlights coming down the stairs of the seating. Two women made their way to the stage for a dance duet; two others entered and split the stage with them for a duet that was more mimed action. The lighting, by Nelson R. Downend, Jr., romantically recalled summer nights in the rural woods, perhaps near Mount Tremper. We couldn’t always fully see the movement but we could almost hear the crickets.
Vandenbroucke says in her introductory notes that this dance is a sort of remix; using previous works from the past eight years as a jumping-off point. The performance consisted of a few quiet sections, and the five women in the cast (including Vandenbroucke) wore simple black costumes by Liz Sargent (there isn’t all that much white involved.) A dancer came on with a small scale paper model of the stage, and showed the prior happenings like a puppet show . . . or Barbie’s Downtown Dance Playhouse. The stacks of paper onstage first were neatly laid out into squares like parts of a playing field, and then thrown into disarray.
The choreographer has a sharp eye for psychology. On a half-lit stage, Djamila Moore lay on the floor curled as if in sleep. Kristen Warnick took a cord and created an outline around Moore, like a police crime scene. Then she curled up and lay beside her. Moore noticed the intrusion. She got up, moved a few feet away and reassumed her position, alone again. It was an understated moment, perfectly observed.
As well as the projection of “Prufrock,” Vandenbroucke also used an overhead projector and one of the dancers echoed the earlier outlining, this time of the dancers’ shadows with a marker. Chunky Move was at BAM this week with the technological blockbuster “Mortal Engine.” There’s no real comparison, but it’s still amusing to compare the low-budget effects Vandenbroucke used: no lasers, no smoke, just an overhead projector and a Sharpie. Her effects succeeded through delicacy and clarity of purpose.
Although it was a short evening – under an hour – and despite the title, “A Number of Small Black and White Dances” didn’t read like a collection of miniatures. It read like one long dance with doldrums, even though there weren’t actually any. Vandenbroucke’s calm psychological exposition had little contrast and emphasis; the pacing flatlined. That can be rough going in print (how many times did you try to get through “The Golden Bowl?”); the problem is magnified onstage. An unbalanced mix: lots of black and little white, made for an evening that was fully intelligent, often exquisite, but not always compelling.
copyright © 2009 by Leigh Witchel
Photos by Mathew Polkoik
Top: Kristen Warnick
Bottom: Kristen Warnick, Djamila Moore