Asya Zlatina and Sean Thomas Boyt were among Philadelphia’s most innovative dance artists before the pandemic, and their 2020 Fringe Festival entries demonstrate their ability to keep creating in new and different ways. Combining movement with technology, sound, and collaboration, #Quarantineksvkhvkhkdvhai and Looks Like Sounds Like—from Artist House/Asya Zlatina & Dancers and stb x at, respectively—are two different yet complementary pieces well worth seeing.
The current state of performing arts
stb x at is Boyt’s collaboration with percussionist Andy Thierauf. For the past eight years, the duo has collaborated on work that transcends discipline and genre. Their devotion to experimentation lends itself to Boyt’s rejection of dance’s gender norms—a graceful dancer with elegant limbs, he often performs wearing a dress. Looks Like Sounds Like is an improvisation, and a full-length piece, which feels like a treat these days. Longer dances were not unusual pre-pandemic, but ongoing closures make it tough for artists to develop, rehearse, stage, and perform them.
Filmed onstage in a theater without an audience and streaming on the artists’ website, Looks Like Sounds Like captures the current state of the performing arts. The last of its three scenes was a standout, with red lights illuminating Thierauf as he played piercing notes on a marimba while Boyt entered by rolling across the stage in a white dress with a gauzy underskirt. As the red lights turned blue and the marimba sounded haunting, dreamy tones, Boyt looked from side to side, kicked one leg, and fell forward to the floor, landing catlike on his hands. He portrayed a character torn between fantasy and nightmare, bringing to mind Blanche DuBois in the Varsouviana scene in A Streetcar Named Desire, as well as life during COVID.
A clever video diary
A series of shorter videos makes up #Quarantineksvkhvkhkdvhai, in which Artist House/Asya Zlatina + Dancers respond to the pandemic. Together, the series reflects a clever video diary in dance, organized by timeline and theme, and relevant to dancers and non-dancers alike. Videos for March and April appear under the heading “Get the popcorn and the tissues.” Next is May, “where the screws came loose.” “June Anxiety, in 2 parts” is followed by July’s “NOT YET,” an in-quarantine collaboration with Ask la Cour of New York City Ballet. The videos conclude with “Nature’s Cycles: Fight and Flight.” Areal Bell’s physical comedy was a highlight of “The Carry On March,” an ensemble dance arranged to look like a Zoom, and Zlatina and la Cour used the seam between their side-by-side videos to their advantage, creating the illusion of touch between dancers working remotely.
Each video showcases Zlatina’s virtuosity as a dancer as well as a performer. The pain on her face in “NOT YET,” where her expression mirrored Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream, and “Catch Me”—a contribution to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s fundraiser—conveyed more than words. So did her bright smile and exuberant spins in “April Milestone,” created to celebrate a friend’s retirement and performed to a song by Andrew Gold best known as the theme from the sitcom The Golden Girls. The series’s only consistently upbeat piece, the April video may be the most poignant in demonstrating the power of human connection and the capacity for joy and resilience.
Image description: A dark photo of a woman in a black tank top turning her face toward the camera. She wears a medical face mask with a red heart drawn on it.
Image description: A photo of two men on a stage. One plays a silver marimba, and the other, wearing a white tutu, leaps in the air.