Brian Brooks Keeps Dance Afloat
I have seen Brian Brooks cross an entire stage while standing on the shoulders of a woman taking miniature sidewise steps. I have also seen a piece in which he brought out the best in Barnard College’s dance students by encouraging crowd surfing onstage. So, I came into the Brian Brooks Moving Company’s show, last Thursday night at the Joyce Theater as part of Gotham Dance Festival, with some expectation to be dazzled and surprised by ingenuity and rigorous feats. I was not expecting to have it all plus an emotional catharsis.
In DESCENT, lights open on a body falling, cutting through space as it is caught and manipulated by another dancer in a parasitic pas de deux. Danger, risk, the program opened at 100 percent. Where can we go from here? To a reverie. Where light, colorful chiffon floats in the air provided by the wind power of a dancer flapping a piece, of what appears to be aluminum, under it at rapid pace. The fabric is so poignant, particularly when the eye takes it in with the huffing and puffing underneath it. Let’s have it stand in for any number of things: our elusive art form, slippery dreams, sanity. There it is, in a tango with the air. On every level from the personal to the cosmic, the visual and physical metaphor works. I would have stayed in this place if allowed, but it was time for bodies to fly not just fall. And so they did. A version of aforementioned crowd surfing began, followed by a soothing series of replacements; wherein dancers in a plank position gave way to the bodies placed gently on top of them, only for that body to melt into the next plank. Hit repeat. I wish I could again and again.
RAPID STILL provided levity to the program (pun intended). The audience chortled a little bit, and the brief film did provide some strange comedy as Brooks himself hovered above the ground in an agitated, semi-religious state. The camera was able to catch an ecstatic moment I imagine Brooks would love to perform live, but the body does have its physical limitations…..
Or does it? One thought inevitably contradicts another in an evening choreographed and curated so well. Humor was followed by an Olympian duet entitled MOTOR which was really nothing more than Brooks and David Scarantino skimming the entire stage by hopping on one leg in perfectly synchronized diagonals for five minutes? Eight minutes? It was hard to gauge the time covered by this athletic feat, as the piece set up such a hypnotic atmosphere. Themes of drive and persistence could not be dodged. I held my breath.
Only to blow the air out and hold it in all over again with the New York premiere of BIG CITY, which began with one man standing on top of another laying supine and rolling over slowly. Negotiations are made and balance is kept as bodies continue to hold up other bodies: a Brooks’ trademark. (If this is as derivative as Roslyn Sulcas purports, and it may be, I pay it no mind as it works like new within his particular container of concepts. Great artists steal, correct?) This stamp continues to play out in a variety of ways inside Philip Trevino‘s blindingly beautiful steel installation–designed along with Brooks–and Roxana Ramseur’s elegant, business casual costumes. Alternating the tender, as the six dancers traverse the stage hunched over, with their colleagues like a sack of potatoes on their backs, with the shocking, when later they undulate on their stomachs (through plank position!) with a man or woman, again, standing on their backs. It is excruciatingly moving. This might be true in all senses and the realness is palpable.
Brooks himself comes onstage to enjoy a frenetic solo and move a few of the metal beams to new positions. As the work gains steam, the original score by Jonathan Melville Pratt morphs into a lush, indie rock sounding anthem as a constellation six bodies move in and out of the space and each other. All the movement emanates from a dynamic spine and spirals in and out of patterns that feel improbable and improvisational; but in fact, must have been ultimately set with complete attention to detail to work so seamlessly. This climax is followed by a quieter moment between two long time collaborators: Brooks and veteran company member Jo-anne Lee. Brooks lays on his back and offers his hands to her feet. She is game and walks for many counts on his palms, as he twists on the floor to anticipate her next move forward with an outstretched arm. The promenade escalates to his chest and then his feet before she simply walks away. The five other dancers return to straighten out the beams, creating a sense of verticality before they throw down with some end-of-the-world floorwork. BIG CITY was built to be a closer.
By the end of the evening, Brooks’s messages were clear: launch forward with total commitment and you will be caught, toss yourself lightly into the air and wind will be at your back, and faith to this process will be rewarded with a hand reaching out to guide your most difficult, artful steps. We can only hope all of our boats will be lifted by this rising tide.