Peering into the Dark: Bryn Cohn and Artists at the Center for Performance Research
Bryn Cohn is a dance maker who does not shy away from much.
She balances the roles of teacher, choreographer, and director of her company Bryn Cohn and Artists with great gusto. In viewing a rehearsal of her first evening-length Into the Dark last month at the Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn, I was convinced of her handle on the worlds she so meticulously crafts.
Seeing the performance shift from a plainly stated studio run-through to a thrilling full production a week later was a rare treat into the laborious inner workings of a dance. All the work that goes into providing a space for performance to exist in its most realized form is rarely apparent in a final, polished showing. However, my experience– both of the rehearsal and final product– was equally thrilling.
Into the Dark opened with a compelling solo by performer Lauren Santos. She assumed a focused gaze in the center of the space while surrounded on three sides by performers Nik Owens, Sebastian Arrango, and Yuliya Romanskaya, who are shielded by large panels of black fabric — credited to Bita Sharif, also the composer for the work, and David Dean Ebert.
The only other set piece was a single curtain of lights on the left side of the stage that remained untouched throughout the work.
Santos was sinister and cunning in an opening solo that made me feel like the world we were entering—not quite of this natural earth—had existed for a long time before we happened upon it.
Her gaze washed over all of us; we were in her territory. Moving through charged lunges and quick ticks of the head, Santos stirred up the space in a way that left me guessing what’s going to come next while fully aware of the calculated spontaneity her movement required.
She was evil; she was fearless; she was vulnerable; and I was just trying to keep pace with her. Cohn’s choreography possessed immaculate shifts of texture and mood that were enthralling to watch, even if it took effort to keep up.
As its title implied, this dance explored darkness and all its discontents, revealing situations rather than tracing the theme through movement.
The black panels shifted to create ceilings, walls, the confines of a confessional, and allowed a physical barrier to exist between performers.
The most compelling use of set came when Romanskaya was barricaded on one side of the paneled wall while the three dancers moved frenzy-like back and forth between the maze of remaining panels. These quick scenic turns offered scenarios without imposing a dominant narrative: at once enacting a religious confessional, an emotional embrace, and a moment of solitary confinement.
Small vignettes pitting conflict and cohesion permeated the work.
A standout duet by Owens and Arrango was sexually charged, bringing up more multifaceted questions of identity, individuality, and mob mentality that were echoed in the early parts of the work.
Owens’ broad stature and intense physicality next to Arrango’s lithe spirit and buoyancy made me think the two were different facets of the same person. The attempts to reconcile being in this single body were met with broad, sweeping movement and a few lifts that sent Arrango flying high through the air. As with Cohn’s tendency for grand textural shifts in minute movements, the pair amplified how complex this dark world is.
The smallest movement seemed to garner the greatest impact; I felt, at times, even the performers surprised themselves as to what force could come shooting from their limbs, especially in moments of intense confrontation. For this, I applaud Cohn’s performers, as darkness means remaining vulnerable and unforgiving at the same time. What made the work so powerful was Cohn’s choreography paired with her performers’ highly responsive bodies, susceptible to these new twists and turns at any second.
In the final phases of the work, the sound of church bells echoed and Owens was the one who became alienated. There was a moment where he continuously flung his body to the ground while being watched calmly by the others. It created, perhaps, the most sinister scene of the piece: one member self-sabotages as the rest look on.
However, it also suggested hesitation or, even more, a questioning of what lies within.
Even after seeing Cohn’s work twice, I have similar questions of what motivated this world to exist, as it encapsulates so much about just being in the company of others in order to form the most basic of human relationships.
I am still sorting out how I can enter her world and come out unscathed. For now, I am happy merely peering in.