Friday, March 31, 2006

Through a glass, darkly

I imagine that even if you weren't already a fan of Peter Gabriel's music, and (at least for some years in the past) a devoted and regular listener of his music for Martin Scorsese's film version of The Last Temptation of Christ, you would have seen amazing things at last nights performance of PASSION by Moses Pendleton's dance group MOMIX.

But if you had lived through that music, putting it in its context of a story about Christ's Passion, then taking it out again, wrenching it into other tales and letting it breathe as music that is about nothing but rich and melodic just as itself, then the whole experience had another level, like those amazing and sometimes disembodied motions onstage were wending their way into some part of yourself that you thought was already etched in pretty solid.

The dance part of the performance was a combination of dance, acrobatics, and play. There were segments featuring interlocked bodies that magically before your eyes turned into single beings with entirely too many arms and legs. There were parts where a skirt or an umbrella or a flexible pole or a gauzy veil was as much a part of the body as the legs and arms. Sometimes the performers wore next to nothing, other times they were shrouded in brilliant red robes. At one point a dancer performed with a long ribbon (like in rhythmic gymnastics), and the ribbon was like an extension of her body or a force enclosing it or motivating it. In some parts their heads and faces were bare, and in others they were covered, making each human form blend imaginatively into all the others on stage. The bodies moved and leapt like frogs sometimes, their legs even splashing onto the stage like frog bodies seem to. In one a male dancer suspended on a looped trapeze started as Leonardo's ideal man, slowly changed into a crucified Christ, and then embodied a series of absolutely excruciating agonies of martyrdom, accompanied by two women in glowing red robes, who initially seemed to be hanged by their trapezes, then evolved into whirling adorations. And everywhere the performance used precise lighting to mask and unmask figures.

And all this took place behind a scrim onto which changing images were projected--close-ups of sunflowers, a detail of a Greek or Roman painted vase featuring an athelete in flight, a row of enormous Buddhas, a Bronzino portrait of a face, Michelangelo's David's belly button, a modern painting of 2 faces broken into spiralling ribbons, violent clouds, a death mask, a glass pyramid, a group photograph of soldiers, an almost demonic looking Minoan snake goddess. Those images, combined with the precise lighting of the figures, let the dancing interweave with the pictures, the motion become part of the stasis, the human part of the artificial. Light and shade in the projected images allowed through differing amounts of light from the stage, so sometimes the dancers faded into the pictures, or sometimes the pictures seemed to watch over the performance on the stage below.

This was ultimately not a show rooted exclusively in the story of Christ's passion: it draws together different stories, different traditions, different attitudes and concerns. Bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. All this in a way that lets you forget where the boundaries of music, bodies, images, time are, even while reminding you of the enormous translucent boundary between you and the performers. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When during the curtain call the scrim is knocked to the floor like yet another veil or screen in the show, and you can remember that what you have seen has been on the other side of that boundary, in that realm where art is and sometimes you are, it brings a tremendous sadness, that awareness that where you have spent the last 72 minutes is a place of your past, and that your returns there can only be but partial in your ever-fading memory.

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