University of Massachussetts Percussion Ensemble & Five College Dancers
Directed by Eduardo Leandro
& Billbob Brown with William Hanley & Thomas Hannum
Fine Arts Center at the
University of Massachusetts
By Stephen E. Arnold
Imagination and collaborative effort mixed anew in the Pleiades concert given by Five College Dancers and the UMASS Percussion Ensemble at the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, on May 11.
The culmination of a weeklong collaboration between the UMASS astronomy, music, and dance departments, the works presented wove art and science together. Appropriately, the concert takes its title from a galactic cluster located in the constellation Tauras. The Pleiades cluster, although only six stars are visible, takes its name from the seven daughters of Atlas turned to stars by Zeus. The brainchild of Billbob Brown, associate professor of dance at UMASS, and co-directed by Eduardo Leandro, associate professor of music at UMASS, the concert featured two dance works, two works for percussionists, and a fifth work, titled ?Corporel, scored for solo percussionist but performed by Brown.
The two dance works, Pleiades: Peaux, choreographed by Brown, and Re-Percussion, choreographed by Terese Freedman, illustrate contrasting choreographic relationships between dance and music.
At first sight, Pleiades: Peaux, set on five female dancers, of the University Dancers, and to the music of Xenakis, looks contained by the music. For example, surrounded by their drum sets and then arrayed around the stage, the musicians literally encircle themselves and the dance space. Within this arena, however, the dance interacts with rather than follows, visualizes, or ignores the music. Yet, the dancer's bodies seem to resonate, if not twinkle, subtly, sympathetically like undampered strings in a piano to the music.
The movement vocabulary, however, draws attention to the laws of physics. For example, one section featured dancers moving in counterpoint in separate regions of space thumbing their noses at tidal forces. Another section, in contrast, featured three or four dancers entwining and whirling like a surreal eggbeater, falling, nevertheless, into a black hole. Yet, as solar systems appear to move in concert, so to Brown anchored his whirlwind choreography with moments of unison motion. All is right with the world after all - even if the music and the spheres go separately together on different paths.
For earth bound observers, the distant stillness of stars symbolizes permanence and universality. Yet, behind their apparent changelessness, an unseen and unheard dynamic drives their lives. Sextet, composed by Steve Reich, sonicifies (complementary to personify) a similar ambiguity. An ambiguity, however, narrowed not to something simple such as between appearance and reality, but rather between what one hears and what one hears. As Reich explains in the program notes, the shifting rhythmic emphasis in the rearrangement of twelve counts from three measures of four beats into four measures of three beats creates a sense of movement where there is none.
There is little doubt, however, that the movement in Re-Percussion is real. Moreover, Freedmans' piece exemplifies music driven choreography that reflects back upon, elucidates its source. Set on 17 female dancers, Re-Percussion features an open, sculptural movement vocabulary. Additionally, that vocabulary draws attention to the rhythmic interest inherent in the relationship between limbs and torso rather than, for example, how the body shapes the space around it. Moreover, the static nature of sculptural rhythm correlates indeed makes the static, white noise of the continuously iterated rhythmic 'cells' in Sextet visible. And, as if to underline that connection, the dancers move in loose fitting white slacks and shirts.
Economy and restraint describe the choice and ordering of choreographic material. In fact, Freedman follows the A, B, C, B, A form of sextet and the dancer's feet never leave the floor until the fourth movement. Additionally, the sculptural idea of line unfolds in the serpentine lines of dancers executing a series of poses. Entering one after the other, for example, the seventeen dancers repeat a phrase while winding their way across center stage in what looked like a modern meditation on the vision scene of Bayadère.
Ironically, it takes the rhythmic articulations of dance and music to give time 'presence,' a boundary, a particularity to create, as in the sight and sound of Re-Percussion, an effect of timelessness. In fact, the palindrome form of Sextet suggests that this event, the music, the dance, neither stops nor starts at any particular place. One may enter its realm at any point; this 'story' is continuous. And so, the curtain closes on dancers in undiminished motion.
Edited by Marie.