October 10, 2017
The LEIMAY Ensemble only features five performers, yet choreographer Ximena Garnica has carved out a civilization of personalities in her latest installment of the Becoming pentalogy, Frantic Beauty. We quickly forget we are in the smallest of the BAM spaces when spiraling about the threads of the company’s energetic tapestries; woven in a language all to themselves, we have nothing to hold on to but unintelligible fluency.
Frantic Beauty’s sections fall into three main categories – speech dominated movement, movement dominated, and light dominated. The company slaps themselves, shuffles on the floor, and vocalizes. While visual intrigue is not the point, bodies are nonetheless captivating when constructing of their sonic ostinati.
All the elements rise in intensity together until voices literally carry bodies through space. The behavior alone is not dissimilar from a group of kindergarteners showing off their self-made skills, but on grown bodies we helplessly watch psych ward patients who are dangers to themselves, but curiously not each other. Violence is never inflected beyond the self, and, even still, the origin feels from elsewhere. Later we hear semblances of conversation, vocalizations increasing in tonal variety to the point that Jeff Beal’s score, despite a glorious beginning explosion of arpeggios actually decreases in feeling integral to the piece.
The more purely danced sections share the vocals’ dutiful impulses beneath an even more reckless veneer. Performers push beyond their bodies’ capabilities, taking rudimentary dance and acrobatic vocabulary and stretching them to cartoonish proportions, individual proclivities remaining clear underneath. Masanori Ashara in particular keeps a insect-like invincibility, experiencing his revolting physicality with unfettered calmness.
Above all other media, Frantic Beauty is a light show. Garnica and Shige Moriya take what we are theatrically used to being subservient and give it full control. Just as the verbiages evolve, light is first seen as purely interactive, but by the end reveals itself as a sadistic puppeteer, illuminating the performers into submission.
A small source of light upstage sends forth expansive rays. All we see of the dancers are kaleidoscopic humanoid eclipses. Horizontal beams segment the space into a sea below, an atmosphere in the middle, and a cosmos above, between which body parts submerge and float.
It proceeds to brand the performers with two primary looks – an aquatic sort of full body tattoo and small subtle stripes encasing everyone in fishnet - while picking and choosing who we are able to see, often shining on stillness while we only hear activity. Other times pools of pure darkness form a time out space for bodies to take refuge. Visibility becomes an imposed gesture of exposure, whether one is ready or not.
The full power of the light culminates in an infestation of roach-like shadows scurrying about the bodies, which slowly collapse under the increasing density. A single ray, as though from a lighthouse, cuts through, briefly showing serene acceptance underneath their affliction.
These creatures come off as savage, but are held captive from the start for no apparent reason. They never harm anyone, yet exercise a string of coping mechanisms from resistance to surrender, consistently experienced as a matter of fact. While ostensibly senseless and unjust, the equal distribution of such struggle aligns the light more with the great levelers of time and nature, yet nonetheless sensitizes us to manmade structural harms that try to disguise themselves as natural, unavoidable, and futile to oppose.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews