Lauri Stallings and gloATL
New York, NY
June 10, 2010
By Martha Sherman
Copyright © 2010 by Martha Sherman
There is no in or out in Lauri Stallings’ “Halō;” there is no separation between up and down, between beginnings and ends, between light and darkness, melody and rhythm. The dancers even attempt to erase the line between us and them. The expressed goal of the collaborative group gloATL is to bridge the gap between artists and audience; happily, that last isn't entirely successful, since these dancers are too special to mesh entirely with the crowd. This is a work without boundaries, filled with glorious dance. The price they paid was occasional confusion, but the audience was completely engaged.
The six dancers’ strikingly different bodies fed unique dance patterns. While the tallest two dancers, Sarah Hillmer and Virginia Coleman, moved in and out of lunges and leaps in long extended lines, the other women translated the same moves into spurts of energetic flight. In the early group segments, they were a flock of birds or a single thought expressed collectively. Any small motion was immediately echoed by the rest as if it were a shared intuition. The movement shifted so often that it was hard to hold onto the visual images as we swam across the unconnected segments.
Stallings trained in Ohad Naharin’s Gaga movement system, and used its lessons to create “Halō’s” sense of ubiquity, but also an uncomfortable shapelessness. The dancers seemed not to need to center their bodies; movement shifts came from unexpected positions and headed in unpredictable directions. They used the corners and lines of the room to include the audience in every turn; at several moments we wondered if they’d stop short of us; in the precision of their practice, they always did.
In the Duo Theatre, a small performing space repurposed from a proscenium era, Stallings ignored the stage, the ornate rococo ceiling, and the painted murals and deconstructed the space to suit the purpose of her “360° dance.” By linking the upper (stage) and lower (audience) platform into a single space with an edge frame of audience seating, the dancers could move in every direction, above and below us. The lighting, designed by Ryan J. O’Gara, drew our eyes between the levels and within the spaces, but even the light didn’t always illuminate what was going on or give reliable hints. The dancers needed to be everywhere; the audience needed to look everywhere. All the time.
The open central space was magnetic, and we did eventually inhabit it. After moving among us, heads on occasional laps or a dancer’s arm around a viewer’s shoulder, the performers finally made their direct appeal. In a single line across the length of the central space, the dancers moved away and toward us, then each dancer took a patron by the hand, first moving us around the audience, then dancing in the center -- a waltz, a Latin sway, and in a version of Stallings’ imaginative but capricious movement.
The eclectic music moved from Bizet and Albinoni to Nina Simone and General Elektriks, and the constant movement shifts incorporated both languor and haste. In “Halō,” rarely was any movement sequence repeated, even if some fragments were familiar. This continual shifting, along with purposely mixed signals from the lighting, kept the audience off-balance, and often confused. Blackouts after dramatic group movements drew applause until it became clear that a dancer was still moving in the dark.
After the audience participation dance late in the piece, the stage went to black. The lights came up on the dancers all in a line standing at the edge of the raised stage in a traditional curtain call stance, but as the audience applauded it became clear that even this was not the end. That moment felt like manipulation; a joke on an audience ready to appreciate the dance and the performers. The better humor was in the dance’s witty pairings and movement phrases.
In the end, Stallings did finally offer a boundary, by coming full circle, 360°. When we had first entered the theater seeking seats and getting settled, one of the dancers, Nicole Jones, stood under a spotlight in the center, her body trembling. She held that pose and extended physical motion through the entire seating process, then effortlessly became part of the gloATL flock as the non-beginning performance began. Occasionally, her trembling body (or the parallel tremble of one of the other dancers) would center a movement segment. At the evening’s end, the lights faded to the first single spotlight at the center of the stage, and Jones took her place. The trembling of her bird-like body closed the circle of this lush communal dance, with no beginning and no ending, and no limits.
copyright © 2010 by Martha Sherman
Photos of “Halō” by Anthony Ruiz
Top: Nicole Jones
Middle: Sarah Hillmer and Virginia Coleman
Bottom: Mary Remy, Virginia Coleman, Toni Doctor Jenkins, Nicole Johnson, Nicole Jones, Sarah Hillmer