CHRISTOPHER K. MORGAN AND ARTISTS IN A STUNNING
By Luella Christopher, Ph.D.
American Dance Institute
May 29/30, 2015
Christopher K. Morgan’s new piece is visually dynamic in its simultaneous use of different levels (tables), different types of lighting (especially worklights, as opposed to theater lights), contrast fabrics (all black, then eventually all white) and mobile flooring (silver marleys that shimmer like industrial tinfoil). The dancers take turns shining work-lights on each other while multiple blackouts delineate segments of the piece. Occasionally the lights are external to the dancers, as in a lamp swinging from the ceiling bathed in red. In program notes, Morgan explains that these lights enable a “journey of exploration and self-exposure” running the gamut of “violence, sex,shame, aggression, anger, self-consciousness, grief”. The lights both expose and reveal, becoming a formidable tool in the choreography.
Most of the musical score is by electric cello in a potent mixture of live and recorded sound called looping. At one point, the original score performed by Wytold introduces sounds from human voices to clinking dishes in a restaurant. His rock-orchestral accompaniment includes bass, viola, flute, guitar, banjo, and/or percussion.
The notion of limited visibility is graphically introduced by a blindfolded Mat Elder stationed on a table with the highest elevation.
His rigid body is passed over the heads of others. Lauren Christie, poised on silver stack heels; twists her body around itself. Clocks tick and wind chimes tinkle. The dancers are masters of contortion, even rolling themselves in the marley floors. All six are synchronized at one point as the lights throw shadows on the wall to a series of pulsating beats. Sharp moves alternate with sinewy ones, showing Morgan’s penchant for sardonic, deliberate counterpoint.
Morgan smacks Elder and he hits back weakly. Thomas L. Moore Jr. enters the stage, clutches his ankle and bends back so far that he almost seems headless. Elder works the perimeter of the highest table and walks in a crouch. Two men spar and roll together, then two women move simultaneously at opposite ends of a long diagonal. Christie perches on the highest table.
Morgan sits in a chair, rolls up the floor-length pants and crosses his leg in a studied pause. To the strains of Cat Stevens, he bends in arabesque and clumps forward. “I’m always talking to you” . . . “I look and you’re not there”. His body swirls, then pivots with the working leg upraised and foot flexed. Out of nowhere, he turns a collapse and contortion into a quintessential arabesque or sweeping renversé. “I can’t think of the right words to say”. . . This transition from “modern” poses to the vocabulary of classical ballet is flawless, its incorporation into Morgan’s choreography breathtaking.
To the increasingly frenzied sounds of the electric cello, several dancers induce Tiffanie Carson to stop mooning over photos. (Morgan acknowledges to me later that this segment represents the only improvisation in his piece.) My favorite image occurs when Morgan swishes Christie across center-stage in a gorgeously executed lift. She stares furtively through the stiff fingers of one hand splayed across her face, as if leery that he may be carrying her off for some nefarious purpose. The brief vignette is both touching and aggressive.
Ellie von Bever contorts her hands and face, beating herself on the chest as two of the men watch from a sitting position downstage. Carson kicks the marley floor across the stage and pairs up with two men, now blindfolded. A brief solo upstage by Morgan ensues. In an uproarious aside, Moore clumps onstage in stack heels like the ones worn earlier by Christie. He paces up and down the center in an exhibition of outsize leg and calf muscles.
Just as we are settling into the role and gender-switching, Morgan dazzles us with a one-woman tableau vivant. Entering from the wings wrapped in a string of bright lights, Van Bever moves slowly across a downstage horizontal plane, shedding and trailing the lights behind her. Is she illuminating or discarding her hidden selves? Christie occupies center stage in white briefs and bra with the words “fake” and “reveal self” written on her legs. The dancers have now surpassed all physical and emotional limits on predictable or conventional behavior.
Suddenly, Moore and Carson appear in white, then all six attain different elevations dressed in white. They create a picture of certain purity, resolution and desire vulnerable and visible at the same time. Five of the dancers move in unison while the sixth assumes the highest elevation. A daring series of turning double in-place stag leaps follows. Once again, Morgan exercises his stellar command of classical ballet technique to leave us with a final set of strong after-images. (Think “Spartacus”.) This choreographer’s narrative apexes are unmistakable even when they pose mini-ambushes and emphasize the serious nature of the subject matter. “Limited Visibility” welds the sophisticated, visceral and provocative in a powerful fusion of the genres of modern dance and classical ballet that has come to characterize Morgan’s unique gifts, as well as expand our understanding of the body as art.
Copyright © 2015 by Luella Christopher