Corporeal Creations

photo by Stephen Urchick

photo by Stephen Urchick

There were moments when Laura Chiaramonte’s mad logic seemed sane.

This retrospective clarity occurred when an accidental elbow bump or foot shuffle from an adjacent chair released me from the dancing’s tenuous, fragile trance. These were the times when the visual rhetoric of “Corporeal”–Chiaramonte’s latest contemporary dance piece–suddenly began to make sense. For a few seconds, my imagination could sit back, cross its arms, and self-evidently declare that these variably violent and tender, erratic and studied, gross and fluidly fine movements cohered.

Like when the eight dancers reduced their motions to meltingly measured suggestions, gazing outwards with glossy-eyed insecurity, all united in such a compelling and seamless gradualness of action that you felt obliged to carefully re-cross your legs or slowly shift your weight with instinctive but not irreverent mimicry.

Or when seven dancers arranged themselves into staggered rows, dropped themselves onto all fours, bent into acute angles at their waists. They pulled themselves up into menacingly triangular shapes braced by their hands and feet, letting their noses drag against the floor as they followed the scent of the remaining upright soloist, her agony increasing all the while. Advancing in time, evoking a dragon’s maw or a row of human tank traps, they forced her to flee haltingly to stage-left, before bending beneath the assault of their collective advance.

And also: When the only male performer stunned us with his positively magnetic groundwork, his body concavely cupped upwards, pinched off at some impossible vertex in his spine; his six-foot frame captured in an invisible field and involuntarily tugged along the floor, toes and fingers wildly trembling with barely perceptible polarities.

These were fleeting moments from a series of distinct routines where the performance came together and we could accept this shamelessly modern yet terrifically peculiar art. “Corporeal”‘s clarity, however, was largely dependent upon the success of its original, electronic score. Musicians Jason Araujo and Barmey Ung triumphed when it came to inhabiting the performance space with creaks, groans, and animistic wind-whistles. They would bait the audience with plausible sounds, before switching into the artificial motifs that characterized and eventually comprised the coming music. The effect collapsed reality down to the immediate action on stage and elevated the synth’s coos and guitar’s hesitant plucks to an intelligible otherworldliness.

But dance sequences dissolved into disjointed confusion when Araujo and Ung attempted to translate this otherworldliness into a vigorous techno–when the synth squealed, popped, chirped, buzzed, and even let out a few thinly-veiled blaster noises. What I saw was elegant, smooth, streaming and beautiful: lolling heads, pivoting hips, current-tugged arms caught up in unseen forces. But what I heard was speedy, spunky. It evoked the science fictional, whereas the dance demanded something more primal.

A chemically electric score–burbling, warbling, stuttering–was appropriate given the corrosive visual art exhibited at the Department. Chiaramonte’s mother, Janet, had installed a series of prints produced from the remnants of distressed and oxidized copper sheet metal. She had etched and disrupted the surfaces of the plates, plunged them individually into thin puddles of dilute solutions, pressed them to canvasses several days later, and styled the raw products into finished art. Laura played her dancers off these prints, dressing them in bright teals, setting them against the collection’s burnished orange and the room’s naturally warm lighting. that the green film of the collective dancers formed a borderline between the world above and the metal’s uninterrupted gleam below, and so the dancers became imperfect intermediaries between the audience and the choreographer’s untarnished creative vision.

These dancers tried to access something wondrously essential–to evoke the unimaginable forces that bound matter together. But the score’s more electronic notes conjured up the wrong referents: green-glowing smokestacks, bubbling vats, the waste of mud. What we saw spoke to something mysterious. It required a different, more subdued expressive mode–spiritual, not radioactive. Overall, the music was at its finest when it was sighing, gasping, whistling, and lonesomely–tribally–singing. When they could wrap us in a synthetic somnolence, the musicians completed “Corporeal”’s illusion, gently elevating the stage artists and slightly blurring reality.

“Corporeal” was a collective creation, each element supporting and sustaining the rest. Shut out the score and tear down the hangings, and the dance–though technically rigorous–would have been unmoving. Turn the music one notch past the bizarre and into the unknown, and it would implode the absorbing human mirage on stage. Yet when motion, sound, and sight all came together, we could give ourselves over to their energy, briefly observing something transcendent with unfamiliar but understanding eyes.