NimbusPRESENTS OFFLINE+: A Wide Aesthetic Palate at BAM Fisher

A wonderful thing about experiencing the work of different artists is appreciating the variety they bring. Such a variety was a treat at NimbusPRESENTS: OFFLINE+ at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAM Fisher space last month. The matinee show was a mixed bill of eight different choreographers. OFFLINE+ is a series that features work by choreographers in their early and mid-careers. This performance focused on choreographers working in New Jersey and New York.

Ariel Rivka Dance in Ori. Photo: Eric Bandiero

Ori, choreographed by Ariel Grossman and performed by the company she co-runs, Ariel Rivka Dance, kicked off the show. The company is led by husband and wife team,  Grossman and composer David Homan.

A classic, codified modern dance feel was evident right away — with cactus arm shapes, clear facings, and a Limon/Horton sense of flatness in the movement.

Those cactus arm shapes linked, the dancers standing in a straight line, the ensemble moved their torsos in a circular motion (lower body still, with feet staggered for grounded support). They then arched back in cannon. A dancer broke out to perform a solo with movement in lower space, as well breaking out of that two-dimensional quality. The dancers in the group continued with more unified, less three-dimensional movement.

I enjoyed the dynamics the movement had in energy, space, time, and the relationships of bodies. I also sensed the work as a blank slate, unto which the audience could apply imaginings, hopes, anxieties, and more. That multifaceted movement along with bright lighting, white costumes, and a white cyc background joined to create this blank-slate sense. The music, by Homan, had undertones of fear and mystery. Because of that, as well as the movement’s fierce intensity, I felt tension and unease — rather than the joy and peace that such a bright aesthetic might otherwise bring.

The dancers were rock-solid in their technique, and I found the movement to be lovely. Yet some of the very technical phrases felt incongruent with the earthy, grounded movement elsewhere in the piece.

In some sections, a sense of raw physics struck me.  For instance, a few dancers tried to pull through a line of dancers with linked arms. The natural curving of their bodies around those arms upon contact was beautiful. Other movement was quite physically impressive, such as when the dancers turned on their knees with their feet in back slightly raised.

The cactus arms and circling torsos returned to echo the beginning. The intensity and speed of movement eased. The lights dimmed on the dancers facing upstage — they stood in a straight line, in deep backbends. The image evoked something spiritual,as if the dancers were receiving from a benevolent higher power.

Ariel Rivka Dance in Ori. Photo: Eric Bandiero

The third piece on the program was Undeniable Traits, choreographed by Keith Thompson and danced by his danceTactics performance group. According to its website, the NYC-based company focuses on “dance’s capacity to communicate on its own.”

The piece opened with two dancers, illuminated by blueish-purple lights. They moved in and out of the wings, traveling on the side-to-side plane. They danced into the center, and a third dancer joined. The movement wasn’t muscled, but happened with ease. At the same time, it was fully committed and clear. Their rondes de jambe en l’air were not so overtly balletic, but rather had a released quality — they  reminded me of windmill spokes. These sometimes fell into side lunges, at other times into sideways runs. The dancers wore pants and shirts, something you’d see in everyday life, and these simple costumes matched the organic feel of the movement.

Then, a voice speaking in verse, rang throughout the theater. It spoke about existing in the present, rather than being too caught up in what has already happened or what will happen — kind of poetic given how dance is meant to be experienced in the moment, an of-the-present art form. I felt the dancers’ movement matched the words, as they appeared to be very present and grounded in their dancing. They turned, leapt, and ran in individual phrases to sometimes come together for striking lifts.

Eventually they walked off and the lights dimmed. In one sense, this felt like an abrupt ending. In another, it matched the piece’s embodiment of simple truths (physical and otherwise) and nothing-to-prove spirit. Either way, the work awed and soothed me, and it did get the gears in my head churning, thinking about being more present.

Erin Carlisle Norton’s The Moving Architects closed the show with America Dawn. The company is described as a “female-centric dance company that channels the authentic complexity of both the current and historically lived female experience into dance works edged with charged movement and feminine strength.” The program explained how the piece was inspired by a poem written by Carlisle Norton’s grandfather, Thomas John Carlisle (1976), which was inspired by a sculpture of the sculptor Louise Nevelson.

The Moving Architects in American Dawn. Photo: Eric Bandiero

It began with a quartet of dancers, with slow and luscious movement. The dancers reached across their bodies and out into space, energy through every finger, in grounded seat or lunge.

The movement picked up speed and intensity, matching the growing intensity of the music. Even though the dancers moved with great speed, their movement remained impressively full and expansive.  

There was an architectural quality to the choreography. With their bodies, they made angles and sloping lines that you mind find in the facade of a building. But they weren’t robotic — their torsos arched and curved while their eyes shifted focus with their movement, reminding us that they’re human.

Sometimes the dancers moved in pairs, but they didn’t always partner each other. Rather, they’d dance in close proximity, even as one dancer went into a shoulder stand followed by another dancer doing a half arabesque turn into the space where the legs in the shoulderstand once were. I could imagine a cross-like shape, if it were possible to transcend the limitations of time.

About halfway through the piece, a dancer dragged a long white cloth to centerstage. the mysteriousness of it all pulled me in — what was the cloth and why were they dancing around it? It was an unexplained attraction. The cloth made a resurgence later in the work, this time it was placed far upstage right. It seemed bigger and heavier this time. A dancer laid on top or it, and then seemed to sink into it, the white cloth enveloping her.

The lights faded down, as a flashlight flickered back and forth inside of the cloth. It was the brightest space on stage — the light emerging at the horizon at dawn. She moved quickly, with agitation and tension. Is this America’s Dawn? Are these the qualities we want it to have? With the confluence of language, movement, and supporting aesthetic elements, my mind couldn’t help but chew on these questions. The lights came down on this scene.

The Moving Architects in American Dawn. Photo: Eric Bandiero

Just as was true with Undeniable Traits, perhaps this ending was purposeful and thoughtful, perhaps it simply felt rushed. Either way, I’d say both are sections to be questioned, probed, and pushed if the works are to be further developed. The wide aesthetic and conceptual range of all these works can bring us into this space of engaged thoughtfulness. To me, that’s a true gift.

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