Akram Kahn, The Seldoms & Troika Ranch

Heather Liberman

Akram Kahn: Bahok

Bahok, Akram Kahn

Due to the desire to maintain connectivity at all times, people are often glued to their mobile devices.  Although this aspect of technological advancement has provided greater access to information and resources, it may also be diminishing in-person communication.  While people evolve with or because of technology, the need for human contact does not dissolve.  Instead, those little interactions that we share are taken less for granted and are treasured.  A smile here, or a “hello, how are you” there, can greatly heighten human happiness regardless of the latest iPhone app.

Akram Khan performed a masterful expose of movement and the human experience entitled, Bahok, the Museum of Contemporary Art.  A derivation of traditional Kathak dancing, Khan delivered extraordinarily unique movement transposed onto highly skilled bodies.

Stranded at the terminal – bus, plane, train or otherwise – a group of strangers from different countries, speaking different languages, were forced to interact with one another while waiting for their delayed travel plans.

Central to this performance art piece was the installation of a mammoth, old-fashioned, arrivals and departures mechanism that passed through each letter before devising phrases such as, ‘your flight is delayed.’  While passing through each letter, the performers paused in anticipation, hopefully awaiting the good news that they would be leaving soon.

Each dancer had an individual story and character that developed throughout the work.  These stories were told through movement or multiple foreign languages.  As interludes to the experiences of the performers, incredibly fanciful movement occurred.  Long lines and extensions, coupled with luscious floor-work quickly identified these dancers as trained in ballet with an acute awareness for traveling through the allotted space.  The liquidity of the movement was reminiscent of “ravers” cutting through the air as if swimming through liquid rubber.

Not only was the quality of the movement awe-inspiring, but the stories were equally heartfelt.  One couple was trying to get home, but was stopped by customs.  Due to the language barrier, there were complications in explaining who the man was, why he was traveling, and what he was bringing with him.  The agents made him feel as though he was a criminal, even though all he wanted to do was see his family.

Another couple was bored of waiting for their transportation, and became playful and goofy.  Taking photographs of one another.  This scene caused other patrons to become engaged in their interplay – creating a feeling of community around the silliness that resulted from the doldrums of the terminal.

Approaching the end of the performance, seven lights shone strong behind the dancers, which was interesting because there were eight people.  The terminal sign changed from “no smoking” to “wait at gate” and ended with “Home, hope, home.”  Overall, the performance was beautiful, moving, and highly refined.

Bahok, Akram Kahn

The Seldoms: Marchland

Marchland, The Seldoms

The dismal reality that often one needs to prevent another person from succeeding in order to get ahead reared its ugly head in the performance of Marchland by the Seldoms on March 13, 2010 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.  This piece was inspired by the animation of artist Fraser Taylor – whose drawings were converted from 16mm film to the digital video that was used in the piece.  The stage was surrounded by a mangled fence that extended at least twenty feet toward the ceiling and practically reached the audience.  Positioned roughly three feet from the ground, the fence created an obstruction the dancers had to maneuver around while entering and exiting the stage.  The company wore costuming that was bleak and grey, alluding to uniforms, oppression, and a militant sensibility.

Along with the use of the fence to create the jagged, unfortunate, and detention-center existence of Marchland, projections were intermittently strewn across the back wall.  The images included barbed wire fences, magnified hair follicles, and splatters of paint.  The haunting visuals were matched by the startling pounding of drums at unexpected moments throughout the evening length piece.

The movement of the dancers was slightly overshadowed by the intensity of the other collaborative components of sound and sight.  The utilization of stillness and minimalist movement was effective to heighten the tension already established by the other elements.  Yet, those choices did little to highlight the abilities of the dancers themselves.  The consistent use of walking for transitions and the long stares exchanged between performers established a relationship early on that did not evolve throughout the piece.

Thematically the dancers repeated a rapid waving motion of one hand to the extent that it became a twitch.  Also, the use of startled breathing with arms reaching overhead was another staple of the piece.  The world established by the erratic and uneasiness of the dancers in those repeated movements created a sense that these people were stuck in a prison or state of mind that was undesirable.  The psychology of the people preventing each other to leave suggested the misery loves company mentality that is pervasive in all walks of life.

Moments before the piece ended, only one dancer was left on stage.  She paced the perimeter of the fence, and then the projection on the back wall changed to red splatters of paint.  The red paint, like blood, represented that despite the pain of the trials and tribulations of life, success is possible.  Although many of the performers “acted” as victims as opposed to successfully portraying an emotion, when they were freely dancing the movement quality was exquisite.  This company is particularly talented in partnering, contact, and lifts.  The dancers were strong and grounded, and their focus remained constant throughout the performance.

Marchland, The Seldoms

Troika Ranch: Loopdiver


Loopdiver, Troika Ranch

Chatroulette (a relatively new internet based device) allows people to not only talk to strangers online, but also utilize video to either highlight part of their body, focus on an inanimate object, or in the rare scenario, actually look the stranger in the eye.  Much like the absurdity that occurs each time the user spins the chatroulette wheel, Troika Ranch highlighted the confusion, irritation, and even furiousness associated with the onset of purely technological resources for present day communication.  Primarily a technology based work, the elements of light, sound, and sculpture were accomplished at the Dance Center of Columbia College on March 4, 5, 6, 2010.

Seating audience members upstage (“A”) as well as in the regular seating area (“B”), the performance actually began prior to the dimming of the lights.  Two chairs were positioned in front of audience A and B, and the performers slinked onto stage and curiously watched the audience, who was also watching them.  Not only was the voyeurism two-way from audience to performer and vice versa, but that sentiment carried over from audience A to B as well.  The mirror image was heightened when three twenty-foot tall, multi-paneled sculptures were extended, exposing shards of glass preventing transparency.

Inquisitively, the dancers were drawn to the glass panels.  Moving slowly as if uncertain of how their own bodies worked, images of themselves were projected atop the panels.  Through the use of the “Isadora Projector,” a technological tool developed by the artistic director of the company, the digital images were conducted in real-time.

Appearing to be self-discovery, the dancers repeated angular studies of themselves while staring at their digital selves in the glass panels.  Movements were repeated ad-nauseam.  The dancers worked through their relationship with the technology as though they were ticking, or twitching.  The movement included: reaching out to the audience for support, and attempting to reach out to one another at times.  The actually physicality was intense despite the minimal nature of what the performers were actually doing:  looking at their elbow over, and over, and over again.

Simultaneously, the looped sound of the pounding synthesizer was played at a volume that was not only invasive, but infuriating.  There was no relief for the audience or the dancers from the infectious looping of all aspects of the established world.  After roughly sixty minutes of increasing anxiety, the climax unexpectedly struck.  A tranquil, chime-like vibration drowned out the migraine inducing beats and the lighting softened to strips of pastel colors dripping over the glass planes.  The performers finally danced – unchained by the technological loop, they performed more lush phrases in unison.  Meanwhile one of the performers chanted in a peaceful tone a French story that altered the tone.

More of a challenge to sit through the sustained technological loop than an indulgence in movement for movement sake, Troika Ranch successfully achieved the creation of relief.  After being subjected to the terror of twitching, the release was on par with acknowledging that life endures only without the chaos.

Loopdiver, Troika Ranch