Techno-orgy: "Science Per Forms' and "Fresh Juice'

When dancers meet machines

'Science Per Forms': Make way for the techies.
'Science Per Forms': Make way for the techies.

Is there no bottom to Philadelphia's talent pool? Over the last weekend of October you may have seen the shared, alternating program at Christ Church Neighborhood House that featured Meredith Rainey's Carbon Dance Theatre presenting Science Per Forms and Mascher Space's "Fresh Juice," which included three dance works and a short dance film excerpt.

Science Per Forms was a wonderfully realized integration of dance and technology. By that I mean the viewer didn't have to choose between watching the dance or the technological elements but could experience both as a synthesized medium.

"Dance and technology" is actually a dance genre that I've kept tabs on since it self-identified in the last decades via International Dance and Technology conferences, the last of which took place in Tempe, Arizona, in 1999. But there's been a resurgence in the research, and a National Conference on Dance and Technology took place just last month at Bournemouth University in the UK. It featured Mark Coniglio, inventor of the choreographic software ISADORA and a long-time champion researcher in the field.

Digital scientists

Jonah Bokaer, a former Merce Cunningham dancer turned choreographer, also made a presentation at that conference. Bokaer's videos, motion capture works and interactive installations have been presented in museums around the world. He was in Philadelphia for last month's show and also to speak at a symposium at Bryn Mawr. With him on the panel was Mariana Ibanez of Harvard University and Georgia Guthrie, who directs the Hacktory, Philadelphia's first Hacker Space.

Bokaer and Ibanez were part of the large team of scientists, designers and dancers that created Science Per Forms. They discussed digital technologies in relation to movement-based art forms. (For my full review of Science Per Forms in the Inquirer, click here.)

Playing with plywood

The "Fresh Juice" shows on Friday and Sunday night opened with Looking For Judy, a duet between Katherine Kiefer Stark and Megan Wilson Stern, accompanied by Barbara Tait. This work explored how the two dancers could mirror image each other on opposite sides of a piece of plywood while keeping it perpendicular between their bodies. (Tait was on hand to help when the feat became too much for the feet.)

The other cool thing about Looking For Judy was its choice of music: mostly pseudo-country selections that added a comic dimension to the efforts to keep the wood from falling.

From monologue to movement

Annie Wilson performed her serio-comic Solo to the delight of all. I'd seen this piece before and found its originality and her performance priceless. Dressed in black pants and jumper, Wilson begins by describing the space she's performed it in before (Mascher Space in Kensington) and asks the audience to imagine they're in that space instead of in Christ Church.

In small increments, she turns the performance from a monologue into a hilarious dance, doffing the jumper and pants to reveal gold-lamé leggings and a white T-shirt with circles cut around protruding, hot-pink boobs. She dances her own version of the YouTube sensation Evolution of Dance, morphing from ballet through several other styles to Merce Cunningham technique in rapid succession.

In addition to its engaging description of the space, the work also cleverly peoples it with audience members, who just stand where Wilson places them. In the process Wilson creates both scenery and also a mass of bodies that make you forget this is a solo.

Defying the audience

Tasting Memory: Memory Withholdings was the evening's revelation. Nia Love and Marjani Forté make up Love i Forté, a Brooklyn-based research collective with an Africanist and socio-political mission. They created a formal space with four flour-filled jars at points surrounding a broom standing in the center.

The two came out slo-mo, walking and crouching with plenty of attitude, and pretty soon the flour came into play. They poured it out and splashed it around, then made a circle in the space with the broom.

I often write about family memories through food anecdotes, and I think I know what Love i Forté meant by Memory Withholdings: those family secrets about which the elders say "Let sleeping dogs lie." It's one thing to convey that in words, another with movement and gesture.

These two artists did so with a kind of chilling humor, a shamanistic command of the audience and a yes, some words. An excerpt from Toni Morrison's Beloved and a poem by Love gave an impression of the work's meaning, but the movement was the thing that really hit it home.

The anguished writhing through the flour-speckled floor, one dancer pouring flour into the other's gaping mouth while both looked fiercely and defiantly at the audience— all blended with sudden moments of tenderness. This mysterious dance concerned the anger, the wisdom, the tensions and the love handed down from woman to woman between generations.

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