{Dd} Critical Conversation: The Power of Juxtaposition in Jen Rosenblit's A Natural Dance

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 Alexandra Pinel and Candice Thompson sat down together at the Kitchen to take in Jen Rosenblit’s A Natural Dance

CT: I left Jen Rosenblit’s A Natural Dance wondering whether this episodic performance piece added up to a greater whole. I didn’t necessarily need it to add up to a cohesive message but was really hoping that what seemed like random and shifting juxtapositions of dancers, moves, costumes, props, text, sound, and lights would inspire some sort of feeling or mood in me.  

AP: I saw the work as two separate pieces, before and after Effie Bowen came on stage. In the first segment previous to her entrance, Jen Rosenblit, Addys Gonzalez and Justin Cabrillos seemed to have established a relationship and spacial motifs that came back. There seemed to often be a solo overlapping a duet that reinforces the solo itself type of scenario. After Bowen entered the space, time accelerated and moments unrelated to one another accumulated.

Photo by Paula Court.

Photo by Paula Court.

Going back to the first section, Rosenblit, Gonzalez, and Cabrillos were extremely visually stimulating in the white box-like set. Each performer stood out in his or her unique body and movement style, yet their differences blended harmoniously. I was struck by the performance quality of Cabrillos who seemed to say a million words just with a smile.

CT: I agree, Cabrillos was refreshing in his white on white presence, finding joy in making his white sneakers squeak as he skidded back and forth. And there was some physical humor when the three began dancing together and Cabrillos makes the shape of chalk outline drawing of a dead body and retains it when he is picked up. And of course, there was even more winks in the costumes and the ceremonious shedding of them.

AP: I was drawn to Cabrillos’ white costume against the white set, and the playfulness of their outfit changes throughout. But I wish that both men weren’t assigned to oversized overalls as it negated everything they had stood for in the beginning of the piece.

CT: I thought they were funny and enjoyed that they cast a silhouetted that was much larger than the form of the bodies in them. But when Bowen entered, not only did she seem out of place, but the opening trio, including the random costume design, began to make less aesthetic sense.


Photo by Paula Court.

Photo by Paula Court.

AP: After she entered the space there seemed to be a multitude of moments taking place, some of them intriguing, but none of which collated.  She read what seemed to be the colors on make-up labels that morphed into what could have been a lighting design for performance manual. Bowen’s voice reading the labels sounded incredible and was interesting on its own as she sort of lost control in her intonations and became somewhat extraterrestrial- so much so that I didn’t feel compelled to watch the movement that was happening off to the side during that section.

CT: The lighting design was fantastic here…a colorful dream. Bowen’s voice was also captivating, and though, there was some ridiculous hilarity to the text she was reading, it didn’t take me anywhere. Do you think it was nonsense for the sake of nonsense or do you think that it was intended to make us think of society and standards of beauty?

AP: I think that it was meant to bring us back to the title and core subject of the work, A Natural Dance, maybe making us realize the impossibility of making a dance that is natural when everything is calculated, such as the lighting. What was successfully natural though was the duet between Rosenblit and Hilary Clark. Their complicity in their partnership radiated.


Photo by Paula Court.

Photo by Paula Court.

After the audio reading of the labels there was a shift and an accumulation of moments, including a dance with mics, two songs being sung (a beautiful “baby” ballade and an adaptation of Michael Jackson’s “Annie are you ok?” turned into “Helen are you ok?”) a duet between  Clark and Rosenblit, as well as a quartet when they were joined by Gonzalez and Cabrillos. A flutter of moments, that came and went with no relationship to one another. It felt like the time sped up from the first section to the next and that we went from structure to nonsensical chaos.

CT: Yes, time seemed to be in flux, but again, it didn’t seem to matter because the larger feeling or point was unclear. The “Helen where did you go?” and “Annie are you ok?” vocals reminded me of Einstein on the Beach, but again, in the case of that show, the nonsensical word play adds up to an overwhelming feeling of LIFE. These fragments did not quite stand alone and seemed to lack greater conceptual coherence, though I grant they may have personal meaning for Rosenblit and her dancers. What did you think of the sound design choices?

AP: Though I didn’t like the progression of the sound score, it was natural (and maybe that’s what she wanted to create). I really enjoyed Rosenblit’s singing as well as the casserole-clinging like sound.

CT: Really? I thought the sound of the voices were lovely but the pots and pans track lasted way too long for me and all of that noise began to distract me from what was completely minimal on stage…I got to the point where I just wanted it to end.

AP: I think it actually added an important dimension to the movement score, it felt so rich and thick that it made me see movement that wasn’t there.

CT: It seems like what you are saying is that your imagination saved the sounds from becoming irritating and detracting from the what was happening or (not happening) on stage? In a way I feel like that gets to the heart of what I felt about this work. There were so many conceptual gaps between the episodes that it required the audience to do a fair amount of collaborative work. The sections that I enjoyed most were those where my own imagination took over. The ones that alienated me probably did so because they did no not equally inspire my participation.

AP: Absolutely. Part of me wishes that I had understood Rosenblit’s point of view in the making of the work and where she wanted to go with it but because there were neither a slap in the face or hypnotism at work here. I found myself daydreaming/imagining with what was happening on stage as my reference.

But what was really remarkable in Rosenblit’s work was the diversity of bodies within the body of dance. This may seem superfluous but I don’t encounter this very often and I felt empowered—as a woman with a non-traditional dance body—by Rosenblit and Clark’s performance. It was an incredibly beautiful and raw duet. Their trust and camaraderie was palpable.

CT: I agree. We could choose to not comment on their bodies for fear of offending someone, but it is true that you do not often get to see the power and chemistry of two women who do not look like stick figures or endurance athletes dancing and partnering each other. Their duet struck me as the most authentic and potentially natural configuration of the evening. But it made many of the partnerships that came before seem stilted and in a way, it undercut the earlier juxtapositions. In particular, it made me question Bowen’s presence and function in the work. Was she necessary or superfluous? And why was she standing on a platform blocking me from having a complete view of the most riveting part of the evening?

AP: I really enjoyed Bowen’s voice and the character she developed throughout. However, I remain intrigued as to why she held such an important position at the center of the stage, being the only one not producing any movement. There was definitely a heavy, if opaque, statement behind this choice, no less because the piece ended with Bowen’s high five to Rosenblit.

Photo by Paula Court.

Photo by Paula Court.

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