The Arts at Oberlin, Remixed
Once an in a while, an arts event comes along that incorporates the entire arts community without becoming overblown or forced down people’s throats by organizers. When this happens, the stage is set for a truly mind-blowing performance. This year’s last dance concert was a perfect example of this rare phenomenon; Oberlin Dance Company and Contemporary Music Ensemble Remixed/2004, was a moving, joyous and ultimately triumphant example of the power that collaboration can bring to an artistic event.
ODC/CME Remixed/2004 was a formidable production. In addition to the dancers and musicians onstage, the concert included works by TIMARA professor Tom Lopez, video design by dance professor Carter McAdams and Nate Pagel, the artwork of Laura Ferguson and CyberPRINT design and technology by Jim Agutter, Julio Bermudez and Verl Adams of the University of Utah.
Professor of Dance Nusha Martynuk, who choreographed the entire concert, remarked that she had not planned to produce such a large-scale show. “Every piece had its own impetus, its own moment of beginning,” she said. The fact that each individual piece coalesced, producing such an all-encompassing project, came as a welcome surprise.
The most obviously innovative part of the concert was its technological aspect, which was most present in the first piece of the show, “Fabled Sisters.” The piece was designed around CyberPRINT, a device that uses sensors on the bodies of the performers to send biological information (heart or breath rate, muscle activity) to a computer via radio signal, which then uses that information to alter or create images on a screen onstage. CyberPRINT was developed by an interdisciplinary group at the University of Utah and was incorporated into this project by Professor Carter McAdams, who had worked with it in Salt Lake City. Technology is now used in artwork all the time; however, it often causes the essential human quality of the art to be downplayed or lost. CyberPRINT, said Martynuk, attempts to “bring art back into the picture.” Because it is dependent on the performer to function, it amplifies rather than obscures the human role in the production of art.
The piece itself was a fitting vehicle for this new technology. Its storyline is the fairly straightforward tale of two sisters who become separated after childhood to embark on two different journeys and then are reunited. However, Lopez’s score injected the work with a constant awareness of the relationship between the mechanical and the human, an effect that is only enhanced by an awareness of the technology. Martynuk’s choreography worked to bring out both levels of meaning in the work, and both she and fellow dance professor Holly Handman delivered powerfully poignant performances.
Technology took on a different, more mechanical role in “Paris Metro.” In this work, the dancing is accompanied by sounds and video footage actually recorded on the “Paris Metro.” The noise has an industrial effect, while the video serves to give a feeling of motion to the “metro car” that is the set. This piece gave the Oberlin Dance Company a chance to show off their acting, as well as dancing, skills. Each member created his/her own individual character, “from the shoes up,” as Martynuk said. In one of the early rehearsals, she asked each of them to bring a pair of shoes to perform the dance in. Each dancer’s choice of shoes determined range of movement and character as well. The theatrical theme of the work is the colliding worlds of strangers in the suspended state we find ourselves in while traveling; the theme of the dancing is time and its expression through movement. The ODC did an excellent job in bringing out both of these themes with outstanding precision in the many sudden time-shifts and unison work as well as compelling character projection.
Even in its less traditional forms, as in “Paris Metro,” the role of music in this concert was much more than the traditional “background.” Musicians performed onstage with the dancers in three of the five pieces performed and were even choreographed into one of the pieces. The Jasper Quartet, comprised of senior J. Frievogel and junior Evan Few, violins, junior Sam Quintal, viola, and junior Rachel Henderson, cello, performed Lopez’s score with engaging personality and energy in “Curvatures.” Set off to one side, they seemed to occupy a world that was removed from but just as interesting as that of dancer Martynuk and the video screens center stage. The work gained another layer of meaning from its connection to the artwork of Laura Ferguson, which focuses on the inner space of the body and its relationship to the outer. Her work was displayed on screens onstage throughout the work along with x-rays and images of Martynuk.
Musically, a similar “different but equal worlds” effect permeated the video piece “Before Night Comes – Remixed.” The film constantly shifted focus from soprano Rebecca Cross to Martynuk, highlighting what were essentially two different but complementary interpretations of Markus Kutter’s text – composer Luciano Berio’s through the medium of “Cross,” and Martynuk’s choreography.
In the final work on the program, “Hoketus,” music and dance finally came together in the same world. The Contemporary Music Ensemble performed in two groups of five instruments each right alongside the dancers, joining in and even taking over the dance at times. Louis Andriessen’s minimalist music served as the impetus for the work; the choreography was always clearly linked to what the musicians were doing.
Of “Hoketus,” Andriessen said, “What is the difference between two people playing a melody and one person playing the same melody? And what about two people playing one note turn and turn around?” This idea was expressed in the dance with the use of precise movements performed by different groups of dancers varying in size and position. The result added accessibility to the music while creating patterns of motion that were visually and rhythmically stunning.
The dancers performed with impressive synchronization and energy, but it was the personalities of the musicians that really made this piece come together as an exuberant celebration of music and movement. Especially memorable were the insane but perfectly in-time hopping of conductor Tim Weiss and the light-hearted faux ram-fighting of senior electric bass guitarists Clara Latham and Sam Kulik.
“Hoketus” gave a fittingly compelling conclusion to a compelling concert. ODC and CME Remixed/2004 marked a fantastic accomplishment, not only for the dance department but for the arts in Oberlin as a whole. When artistic events transcend the boundaries of individual disciplines they became, by nature of their breadth, more accessible to a wider audience – a rare but necessary accomplishment in modern art. It is through collaboration that art will continue to advance, and it was truly heartening to see this kind of interdisciplinary work happening at Oberlin with such a positive and powerful result.