Baryshnikov Arts Center
New York City
January 15, 2015.
by Martha Sherman
copyright 2015 by Martha Sherman
With their New York premiere of "BeginAgain" at Baryshnikov Arts Center for the COIL Festival, choreo- grapher Zoe Scofield and visual artist Juniper Shuey created a haunting blend of texture, light, sound and movement that highlighted each of its elements equally. Shuey’s set split the performing space into jagged segments, two wide downstage triangles covered in peat, and a central shaft and upstage band of dance floor. Dividing them were two light scrims, sometimes pulsing as if in a breeze, rippling with images of water or a quilt-like pattern.
Ariel Freedman, Zoe Scofield in “BeginAgain.” Photo © Maria Baranova.
Another set element was human, although unlike the filmy scrim, it didn’t move. A dancer lay in repose on the peat floor, an arm cushioning her head as her legs lightly angled; she cuddled around her own image – a papier-mâché cast of her body and face. At the back of the stage was a brain-twisting mural, sometimes a forest or textile design, but later appearing as a pattern of alternating faces, mirrored profiles and women’s bodies. The set was exotic and magical, and the dancers inhabited it respectfully; when boundaries were crossed, it was purposeful, as meaning shifted along with geography.
After a short prelude as they curled gently together, enfolding into a soft knot with one’s chin nestled in the other’s neck, the two dancers -- Scofield and Batsheva-trained Ariel Freedman -- moved to the floor between the peat, and moved in luxurious parallel, with wide swooping arms and outstretched legs. Movements repeated with the dancers' hands moving together in a prayer pose, then rolling under their knees, as the women slid into long lunges and one-legged balances.
With clever stage magic, Freedman danced in front of one of the scrims, first mirrored by her shadow, then trailed by a silhouetted image that moved differently. It wasn’t Scofield’s image; she danced on the other side of the scrim in yet a third pattern; that second shadow was a mystery. Later, a third dancer partnered Freedman in a gentle, shadowy duet; in parallel, Scofield danced only Freedman’s moves, viewed through the translucent curtain. It was as if the dance partners were mirror images – but one of them was trailed by her thoughts or wishes, made visible in the third dancer.
These mysteries of perception were highlighted by the soundscape, which also came alive. At first, the sound was a distant murmur; then it shifted to trilling and watery tones and eventually became loud and throbbing, before fading back. Each change happened subtly, so it was hard to recognize the shift at all.
An interweaving story was told by the supine woman, who had moved to lay with her back toward the audience. A man in a suit (John Pyburn) gazed at her, singing a nonsense song of “do-re-me” syllables as he slowly and deliberately brought out a bucket. He knelt by her, and began to cover her body with wet strips of papier-mâché, presumably in a repeated rite, evoking her cuddled cast in the opening set. This work proceeded, half-hidden, half-revealed, as background while Scofield and Freedman moved in their shifting universe.
The shadows and uncertainties of movement and relationship were at first unsettling, as the audience sought to find stories or sense in this mix. Eventually, though, the crowd seemed to release in a collective sigh. The visual and auditory richness became a lullaby. In the final scene, as the dancers touched each others’ faces with tenderness, Pyborn crooned an extended song in French song, offering a veritable lullaby to a piece that had touched every sense.
Top photo: Zoe Scofield, Ariel Freedman in “BeginAgain.” Photo © Maria Baranova.
Bottom photo: Zoe Scofield, Ariel Freedman, Eloise DeLuca, John Pyburn in “BeginAgain.” Photo © Maria Baranova.
copyright © 2015 by Martha Sherman