Off with your clothes, Big Brother is back

Bloom’s CITY’ and Thirdbird’s Blind Date Trios’

6 minute read
'CITY': Isolating the individual from the group.
'CITY': Isolating the individual from the group.
The Bloom! Dance Collective, a deft international dance group based n Budapest, riveted an Arts Bank audience with an evolving arc of authoritarian menace and control in their presentation of CITY. They successfully used the directing of a performance as a metaphor for a Big Brother who directs not only the art on stage but also all aspects of life.

Although this two-year-old work pre-dates the extreme right-wing Hungarian government that's now destroying democracy and free expression in this central European country, CITY stands as a commentary upon Hungary's newly oppressive regime, as well as oppression everywhere.

The five performers— Viktoria Danyi, Csaba Molnar, Timea Sebestyen, Moreno Solinas and Igor Urzelai— walked onto the stage and immediately disrobed into frontal nudity— a recurring device in the work— and while in third position dutifully executed pliés to circus music (identified by sound designer Alberto Ruiz Soler as the "Entrance of the Gladiators"). The offstage deep male voice behind the audience that had given us the customary pre-show warnings about cell phones now thanked the performers, who quickly dressed and sat in silence, at the stage left and right walls, waiting, staring, fidgeting.

Slowly they gathered on stage, looking quizzically, gesturing enigmatically, posing with hands behind a head, flirting with us as they dart around themselves to obtain our attention. Was this an audition, a rehearsal, a group looking for a crowd's attention?

High-velocity questions

Their individualized movement then evolved into energized unison dancing that constantly changed direction across the stage, like a flock of birds driven by fickle and unfriendly winds. The off-stage voice abruptly stopped the dance, calling out the dancers' first names as they herded within a small spotlit space, quickly raising their arms as they heard their names called.

When all five formed a lineup, the voice interrogated them with a cacophony of non sequitur questions about their identity, profession, sexuality and emotional state, to which they responded with raised arms and humorous gestures mimicking their answers, until the high velocity questions and responses crashed to a conclusion.

We took a pause via a lighthearted, satirical dance to a commercial-sounding jingle with a refrain of "Push a little button," which ended abruptly at the voice's now familiar command of "Stop." Then the action descended into a darker, more threatening space.

The voice ordered a couple to go through a series of boot camp-like repetitive actions to barked commands to sit down and stand up, producing exhaustion but also a voice offering a reward: touching, embracing and a "kiss, kiss, kiss." A dancer in the next sequence was rejected as "not good enough."

Isolating a loser

The five pursued a series of martial steps, with sharp quarter- and half-turns. A solo nude male danced ecstatically, only to be halted as "a loser" and then prodded by two performers with long rods into a slow, death-like walking dance, ending with the man frozen in a darkly lit silhouette frieze with his arm projecting a rod thrust overhead, left alone as a ghostly warrior.

The voice— and the ensuing treatment of performers— subsequently became more vicious and, perhaps, too heavy-handed, as dancers again undressed and a tall nude woman was singled out for derision, rejected by the quartet but also derided by the voice until she collapsed into herself. A final scene of all five standing nude, anxiously and uncomfortably in military-like stances, resolved into one man, abandoned by the others, facing us with an uncertain future.

Odd couples

Thirdbird, the dynamically creative presenting team of Anna Drozdowski and Dustin Hurt, joined both evening performances of CITY with two sets of their highly satisfying curating concept of "Blind Dates"— improvisations between dancer/choreographers and musician/composers who haven't worked together before.

The first of four such sets joined a pair of opposites: Mathew Neenan, co-artistic director of Ballet X, and Hannah de Keijzer, co-artistic of the much more fringey Green Chair Dance Group. They moved more in isolation to each other, Neenan executing fiery fouettes while de Keitzer played closer to the ground and walls, often flashing wide-eyed astonishment at what was happening. Yet the juxtaposition unexpectedly worked.

Jorge Cousineau, the master stage designer, held the short piece together via a 20-foot-long wire diagonally piercing the space connecting his synthesizer to the ceiling like a latter-day Ben Franklin, with kite and key, seducing the dancers to play with his vibrating, electrified wire.

A more integrated trio of dancers— Megan Mazarick and Michelle Stortz, with composer/sound designer Michael Kiley— together offered playful vocalizing in altered tones that were reflected in comedic physical responses, such as collapsing upon themselves or extending limbs into hysterical delight. At one point a motorized, automated toy came onto the stage, then crashed off. Later, when it executed a less violent exit from the stage, the toy signaled the closing of this playground of vocal sound and dance.

Volatile emotions

The second night's "Blind Date" trio opened with Meredith Rainey, the two-decade veteran of the Pennsylvania Ballet, entering from a rear stage doorway onto a stage rocked by the dual synthesizer techno sounds of musician/composers Aaron Igler and Christopher Sean Powell. Rainey responded with a broad palette of erratic and at times violent actions, including sudden falls, awkward walks, runs into the walls and lunges into the first row of the audience, thereby exhibiting a variety of volatile emotional states to the constantly shifting rhythms. Exiting the same doorway, Rainey waved a quiet goodbye, leaving us to make our own exits from this tempest.

Dancer Meg Foley gave a memorable improvisation to the formidable music duo of Christopher Colucci and Eugene Lew, who use an assortment of acoustic and electronic music sources. As all three built energetic, sympathetic responses to each other, Foley whipped her torso and pelvis, consuming the whole space.

When a ball unexpectedly rolled off Lew's enormous drum and caromed off a wall, as off the side of a pool table, and directly to Foley's feet, within the instant Foley picked it up and began a game of tossing it off the opposite wall, to Foley's delight as well as the audience's.

Thirdbird is wisely demonstrating that, yes, dance and music improvisation can be presented on stage as a most deliciously mischievous and entertaining art form.

What, When, Where

CITY. Created and performed by Bloom! Dance Collective. With “Four Blind Date Trios,†presented by Thirdbird. May 3-4, 2012 at Arts Bank, 601 S. Broad St. (at South). (267) 861-4773 or

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