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Liss Fain Dance's 'Quarry'
Cowell Theater, San Francisco, September 29, 2000

by Karen Drozda

Choreographer Liss Fain's latest work is a collaboration of artists from different fields, all working on a central theme, each bringing their own perspective. At the root of this collaboration is an interest in integrating dance and high-technology.

The program included two pieces, each combining live dancers and video imagery. "Sojourn in Alexandria," the first part of the three-phase project, is set to the music of Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi. "Quarry," second in the series, made its world-premiere debut with a collaboration among artistic director Liss Fain, sculptor Richard Deutsch, video producer Kikim Media, internet consultant Ed Payne and set designer Mathew Antaky. "Quarry" is performed to Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano.

The idea of both works is to merge two real-time events using video streamed live through the internet. This merging explores the ways in which the internet can interface wtih live performance. In "Sojourn in Alexandria," the remote dancers perform on a lobby stage created to simulate collaboration over distance. In "Quarry," the remote images are of sculptor Richard Deutsch working in his studio.

The performance begins with large screen images of dancers from the remote stage of "Sojourn in Alexandria." The screen images are manipulated and framed to function as paintings in motion, creating visuals of such compelling beauty that we are almost disappointed when the screen fades for the entry of the live dancers. It is a powerful message, the real human body diminished by the power and impact of an electronic image. The grace and beauty of the dancers' movement are amplified by the art of the video producer.

The heat and bustle of Alexandria are captured by the orange light and blue shadows of the stage set. The dancers emerge into the cool of the evening, after a day of relentless heat. The music of Philip Glass spills in a steady stream through the dancers, transforming their movement. Musical images are formed and merge with the visual images to create the fear and awe of a pagan religious ceremony, the hustle of a crowded marketplace, or the irritation of rush-hour traffic on a hot day.

In "Quarry," video image and lighting create a stage set that recalls a stone quarry. Images of sculptor Richard Deutsch in his studio serve as a backdrop for the dancers, in an unrehearsed juxtaposition of art forms. We see him applying paint to large surfaces with a brush and with his hands, in sweeping circular motions. The dancers perform to the music, and in counterpoint to the motions of the sculptor on the scrim background.

In general, the dancers seemed to have difficulty holding their poses. An exception was dancer Philein Wang, in a disappointingly brief solo that stood out brilliantly from the body of the dance.

As a collaboration between dance and sculpture, the piece raised several questions. Where does the sculpture make its mark? Do we assume that Richard Deutsch's greatest contribution to a collaborative work of art is to be a live stage set as he putters about his studio? Is the process of making sculpture visually interesting? Is it possible that the power of sculpture is in the finished piece, not the process of fabrication?

The experience of sculpture is a three-dimensional experience involving volume and space. It might be documented by film, and sculptural qualities could be expressed by video imagery, but that was not the case here. Perhaps the unpredictability of real-time video imagery is what is intended here, with the choreographer not knowing beforehand the kind of images that will be projected behind the dancers.


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Edited by Azlan Ezaddin.

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