Performing Arts: Dance
July 26, 2017
UNA Projects’ Deserts is a unique mode of dance presentation – a grouping of four dances that have all been constructed at about the same time, brought together for no more than this reason. As such, it reads as an EP, or a collection of essays – each segment at once complete and limitless in potential.

Atacama begins after a slow pre-show of ten bodies emerging on the Tisch Dance stage, calibrating us to take in the subsequent complexity – an ebb and flow of grid deviation in which tender accidents blossom before dissolving back into structuralism. Familiar music selections from The Velvet Underground and Morricone shift viewer perspective to a cinematic one for the two duets comprising Bronco without satirizing the musical choices. Choreographer Chuck Wilt subjects himself to himself with Cadet, and joins immediately after for Fatima, a recapitulation in retrograde of everything previously seen on fewer bodies, replacing the tender energy of Atacama with agitation.

Each work possesses distinct character, but shares a physicality of doing simple things non-simply. Heavy abandonment is evident in the vertical jumps of Atacama that occasionally spin, repeated as though the floor were a trampoline. Adherence to motion is interrupted in sudden departure from wherever we are. Every movement in Bronco’s first duet is initiated by either Wilt or Kyle Filley pouncing to take the lead, away from and back into free floatation. Others are parenthetical and pedestrian, wackiness notwithstanding, such as Atacama and Fatima’s insect-like foot-rubbings, or Rebecca Margolick’s brief bout of high-released salsa walks in Fatima.

The synthesis occurs at the end of Fatima. Gradually, the five bodies link arms. They are at once the tightrope and the walker, buttressing themselves for balance. After cooperating in different organizations – in unison, in canon, and in free counterpoint, they rise with goalpost arms that drop to a neutral empowered by the preceding rigor.

The characters emerge from different logics applied to the common physicality. Atacama begins with bodies falling away from and faithfully returning to the grid. A few rounds in, those holding space in stillness peel off on their own, such that they and we must remember where the skeleton stood. Individuals then switch groups mid-peel off, spinning a web of oblique activity against their static starting point. The first part of Bronco relies on replacement. Wilt and Filley take turns circling each other in different variations until towering Wilt perches atop compact Filley’s back. When they partner, the same logic is applied to replacing whose body part’s turn it is to hold the other up. Cadet takes a collage approach to sharply shift between modes of the one constant that is locomotion. The reprisal of all these in Fatima begets an investigation in shedding oneself to add to someone else, culminating in the aforementioned compound body.

Amid the varied characters of each Desert is a benign sort of violence – the inconsequential kind common in cartoons, seemingly impervious to pain. Humor is one sort of violence, seasoning the overarching solemnity and injecting humanity into abstraction. The disparity in size between Wilt and Filley in Bronco, while inherently funny, makes their equal sharing of dominance and submission all the more profound. Wilt’s body revolts against itself in Cadet, as though at the hands of an invisible sibling accusing him of self-harm while hitting him with his own hand. Fatima is most direct; its twisted arms, sudden punches, and shaking attacks are equally potential transgressions or retributions. What Atacama lacks in playful assaulting, it has in the grid itself. Whether it serves as a haven from the violence of randomness, or the violent imposition over freedom in space, the final tableau obliterates it, asking us, “What now?”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

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