Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bridgman/Packer - The Matrix of Dance

[8pm Discovery Theater tonight (Saturday) tickets here or at the box office.]

Last night we saw Bridgman/Packer perform in Anchorage.  We'd seen Under the Skin - their first piece Friday - here three years ago.  But I'd forgotten details.  It was just as amazing as it was the first time as the dancers perform against an audio/video backdrop that blurs the line between live and recorded, real and unreal, and does other tricks on your expectations of dance, art, and even gravity.  This is the Matrix of dance.
Packer, Bridgman, and videographer Bobrow after Friday performance

The second piece, co-commissioned by Anchorage's Out North Theater moves into yet another dimension.  [Look, I feel an obligation to write about this, but I also realize that what they do is so radically different, that there is nothing I can say that can capture it adequately.  Not just different, but amazing and spectacular].  In Under the Skin, there is a lot of video through which the live dancers dance, starting with the opening scene of letters zipping up.  But then previously shot images of the performers dance with the live performers on stage.  And then one more layer gets added - live video of the current performance is layered on top of it all until the audience is wondering which are the real dancers and which are the images.  Though this time around, the projected images were not as saturated as I remember last time, and so the live Bridgman and Packer did stand out from their paler video images.

Here's some video of Art Bridgman working with the lighting crew Wednesday evening for the Friday performance.  Myrna Packer was stretching on stage at the beginning.

But all the technology would just be a gimmick that was neat the first time, but flat once you've seen it, if the ideas behind the choreography and the quality of the dancing weren't first rate.  The precision necessary for them to be at exactly the right spot so that you can see the front of their live body superimposed with the back of the projected image of their back is incredible.

And perhaps I'm biased because the theme that jumps out at me is the theme of this blog - how do you know what you know?  What is real?  What is imagined?  How do the real world and the non-real world interact to lead us to think we know reality and truth?

The second piece - Double Expose - pushes to a whole new level.  A lot of the background images are very real street scenes and architectural settings through which Bridgman and Packer roam as six different characters - prerecorded, live, and as projections of their live performance.

What does it mean when you see the live Art Bridgman on stage dancing against a black background to the side of the stage while the projected image of him dancing is put in context in the video landscape center stage?  He's live on stage, but your eye is drawn to the image which is part of the scenery and where he interacts with a prerecorded, a live, and a live recorded Packer.  Or a prerecorded Bridgman.  What is more real?  What has more meaning?  The live man abstractly dancing against the black backdrop?  Or the image of that man interacting with other images?  And where should I look?  I'm paying money to see a live performance, so why is my eye pulled from the live performer to her image? At one point the lights are behind the performers and their shadow giants are also dancing on the walls of the theater in the audience. 

What does this say about how the human brain constructs its version of reality? 

At one point, their very realistic backgrounds change into fantastically playful fabric patterns, which come to life. [UPDATE 5/1/11: These were done by artist/animator Karen Aqua, who I was told is ill and hasn't seen the performance.  Send her good vibes.]  The colors and images were a total change from the noir feel of most of the realistic backgrounds.  The animation added yet another dimension to the juxtaposition of reality and image of reality.  Why are the filmed street scenes more 'real' than the animated tiger walking in the background?  After all, the filmed street scenes and arches and tunnels are no less humanly created artifacts than are the animated images.

The live performers dancing on the sides of the stage while their images were stage center in the scene interacting with the images of other characters also reminded me of puppeteers being the live animators of their on stage puppets.

I also pondered about how Bridgman/Packer  (I feel that now and then it should be Packer/Bridgman) play with so many different media, yet their performance, ultimately has to be seen live.

As you can see, they've invaded my brain and are rearranging the furniture.  We're going back tonight and will sit in a different location to see how that changes all this.

So, yes.  While there was a nice sized (and incredibly appreciative) audience last night, you can go to the Discovery Theater and get tickets for tonight's performance.  As good as these performers are, they are off the radar.  And when Bridgman/Packer is finally a 'household name' it will be much harder to get to see them.

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