Written by Christin Call
The set up for the HERE/NOW performance at Open Flight Studio on Saturday, December 10, 2011 had a vague resemblance to a boxing match. The audience was so packed it spilled from the chairs to the side aisles and onto the floor in front of the performance area. There on one side, a row of eight musicians stoically faced off the opposite side of the room where eight dancers were gearing themselves up like true competitors. But what seemed a potentially combative energy unfolded into a disarmingly unabashed and open evening of true eclecticism, both in form and in content.
The HERE/NOW series exists to create a venue for cross-disciplinary improvisational performance and embraces that same serendipitous quality in the randomization of the show’s presentation. Two curators—Paige Barnes and Christopher Hydinger—select individuals from dance and music genres, respectively, to participate. The participants generally don’t know each other and do not discuss their work or artistic practices before the show. The participants from each genre are then selected by audience members from a hat to create the pairings. They are given 8 minutes of stage time to improvise a duet with their partner.
Installment 11 contained a virtual kitchen sink of movement styles and musical approaches—from b-boy, butoh, contemporary dance, and the unnamable space between mime, acting, and dance to violin, cello, saxophone, guitars, and electronic loops and processors.
Many exciting pairings came from unexpected dance forms and unconventional music practices. Brysen Angeles from the Massive Monkees tuned in to his b-boy groove with elegance and martial arts-like intensity. Dave Procia on the electric bass took his time with a heavy, spare chord progression that groaned like old saloon doors from the old west.
Vanessa Skantze revealed a powerful and intense alignment with butoh. Eyes fluttering and body shaking at times, her limbs curled inward with constant, muscular tension. She displayed extreme vulnerability and physical control throughout, balancing on one leg for extended periods. Her pairing with Salo shared a similar timbre. His use of keyboard synthesizers, pedals, and loops allowed him to build an unrelenting wash of melancholic sound as if to cocoon Skantze’s performance.
Other pairings created a platform for the performers to directly contrast their creative agility and aesthetic sensibility against. This allowed artists like Neil Welch and Robert Tyree to exhibit a delightful expansiveness and variety. Somehow able to draw out a knocking and tapping percussiveness on the sax, Welch easily burst into spastic, explosive arpeggios like run-on sentences. Tyree seemed to grab at these passing fits as if snatching snippets of stories that he only partially revealed to the audience. Mouthing words to himself, his gestural movement ranged from old to young, sensual to banal, male to female, and playful to reflective. The effect was universal. And human.
Karen Nelson displayed a similar kind of contrast with Natalie Mai Hall on the cello. Playfully reinterpreting both Hall’s handling of her cello with her own body shape, Nelson also vocally imitated the unconventional sounds being made with the instrument. Her self-deprecating approach to her movement led to other vocal outbursts, such as “I’m sorry I’m doing other peoples’ images… I can’t help it,” and a quip about discerning the difference between a tour jeté and “what I just did.” A favorite part of the evening came in the middle when Nelson was exploring around the negative space of the cello bow’s movement. Jumping up with delight suddenly, she exclaimed, “You touched me!” Hall also exhibited a brilliant diversity in exploring sonorous high notes like alien bird calls to what sounded like a symphony made for trash compactors. Very expressive herself, she frowned in the depths of her sound but at one point paused mid-bow to laugh at Nelson’s antics.
Another highlight of the evening was Lorraine Siu Lin Lau’s emotionally pliable performance. With her equally supple physicality she explored the unfiltered needs, delights, and absorption of a small, rambunctious child.
What was so fulfilling about HERE/NOW was the organic and transparent way the artistic process could be seen, watching the artists negotiate with each other while remaining distinct individuals. For more information on HERE/NOW please see